The mostly positive feedback on my “Backward Thinking” series of postings has convinced me there may be some further utility to using cosmology and particle physics to foment some one-sided debate on Constitutional and historical issues. Thanks to a chain of sensational “current events” that have transpired since my last posting of the now former trilogy, my ammo clip is loaded and ready for some target practice.
As you might have surmised from my reference to an “ammo clip,” the Constitutional issue de jure for discussion is the renewed pressure for gun control, and its scientific counterpart is, of course, the recently announced tentative confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson, known to readers of Leon Lederman’s 1993 tome of the same name as, “The God Particle.” I can see some of you have doubt as to the existence of such a correlation. Allow me to elucidate.
We’ll start with the science and digress into the Constitutional issue. As those of you who are familiar with my prose already know, I have a thing for separating true “facts” from mere opinion and outright fantasy or prevarication — particularly as the distinction applies to matters of science and law. Thus, the notion of a “tentative confirmation of the existence of the “Higgs Boson” is suggestive of a previously “theorized” (read, “opinion”) particle having been experimentally confirmed to actually exist, moving it into the realm of “scientific truth.” That’s a big deal.
So, what exactly is a Higgs Boson and why in creation would it be called “The God Particle?” Funny you should ask. According to Lederman, there were “…Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one….” That latter reference, in case you missed it, because of inherent godlessness or stunted reading as a child, is to the Bible, in general, and the Book of Genesis, in particular, as regards the creation of…well, everything.
We will dispense, for the moment, if not altogether, with the Biblical notion of “Creation,” and focus our gaze instead, on the “theory” of the “Big Bang,” which posits that roughly 13.something billion years ago, something went “Bang” and created all that is about us presently. In doing so, we conglomerations of quarks and leptons who purport to be able to observe and discern what is presently going on, believe (read “theorize”) the provocative cause left behind a number of signals or laws that purport to indicate how things will go, so to speak, at least insofar as future transactions involve the interaction of whatever flotsam and jetsom emanated from whatever went “Bang” to begin with. Take a deep breath, recognize that the foregoing sentence includes such “theoretical” or recently experimentally “proved” notions as black holes, quasars, pulsars, dark matter (oops, still theoretical) and dark energy, and appreciate that as much as we think we know about the Universe, we really “know” very little. Nature reveals itself in a very circumspect manner. Those of you who are not scientifically inclined shouldn’t feel too smug, we “know” very little about many things, a matter I am addressing in a new book I am writing, that I intend to call “The Reason Why,” but I digress.
Back to Higgs. Despite we conglomerations of quarks and leptons having walked the Earth for many millennia, trying to figure things out, we spent most of our time here being totally ignorant of how things worked at the atomic and sub-atomic level. Truth be told, we didn’t know there was a sub-atomic level until the “electron” was first theorized in 1838 and experimentally confirmed in 1897. Imagine that. From the dawn of Man to less than 200 years ago, we conglomerations of quarks and leptons purporting to be humans didn’t have a real clue as to what it is we and everything about us was actually made of. Fortunately, the laws of physics work whether we understand them or not.
Things began to move quite rapidly after the discovery of the electron, with the existence of the proton and neutron experimentally confirmed by 1932. All was now right with the world, which we then “knew” to be comprised of these three basic particles. Simple, elegant and beautiful — but wrong!!! It turns out these supposedly “elementary” particles are comprised of still more fundamental…“stuff,” broadly divided into three groups, Bosons, Hadrons and Fermions, which combine in various and sundry ways to form an astonishing 61elementary particles. Why 61? We don’t know! What happened to simple and elegant? We don’t know! What we do know is that starting in the 1960’s, physicists began weaving a patchwork quilt of theory that culminated in the mid 1970’s with the present version of the “Standard Model” of particle physics. Through the use of more and more powerful particle accelerators, physicists experimentally confirmed the existence of all but 1 of the 61. What was the particle eluding confirmation? The Higgs Boson. So what is it?
We will leave the math out and speak figuratively. Physicists have discerned the existence of four fundamental forces in nature, they being gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear and the weak nuclear, which operate to regulate things in their particular fashion. I have noted in earlier diatribes that although we can describe gravity’s effects quite well, we really don’t understand what it is. The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. It explains the pushing and pulling we experience with ordinary material objects, as well as chemical phenomena and electricity itself. The strong nuclear force is what acts to bind quarks together to form protons and neutrons, and what binds those particles together to form atomic nuclei. At the atomic level, the strong nuclear force is about 100 times stronger than electromagnetism, which in turn is orders of magnitude greater than both gravity and the weak nuclear force, the last of the four fundamental forces, which is responsible for radioactive decay and hydrogen fusion in the core of stars.
Physicists have theorized, and then began confirming by experiment, how these forces interact to form the particles that ultimately make up the atoms that make up everything else. Part of the process involved in articulating the theory is describing the resulting particles, in terms of shared physical phenomena, including mass, spin, electric charge and color charge. A glitch in the framework of the Standard Model arose because it lacked an explanation of why most elementary particles were massive, while two, photons and gluons, were massless. In 1964, the glitch was resolved when theoretical physicists Robert Brout, François Englert, Peter Higgs, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble theorized the existence of a very massive particle that interacted with itself and decayed almost immediately upon creation, yielding the massive and massless elementary particles and thus cementing the building blocks of the Standard Model into a theoretically unified whole. All six physicists contemporaneously wrote papers, some in collaboration with others, and Higgs by himself, which were published together in the Physical Review of Letters, and the theorized particle came to be referred to as the Higgs Boson, perhaps because of his having described the scalar field within which the Higgs Boson operated, which was aptly named the Higgs Field.
The problem was the Higgs Boson had never been discovered in any of the particle accelerator experiments conducted, nor would it, until an accelerator was built that could reach the energy levels where the theorized particles were projected to be formed, and those levels were close to what was calculated to have existed when the Bang went Big. Enter CERN and its Large Hadron Collider, built between 1998 and 2008 and reaching a world record for the highest-energy man-made particle collisions on March 30, 2010, when two 3.5 Tera-Volt (that’s 3,500,000,000,000 volts, written out) beams were set to meet head on. Impressive, yes, but no Higgs Boson. In 2012 the energy level was upped to 4 Tera-Volts, and voilà!, on March 14, 2013, CERN announced it had determined that what looks like the Higgs Boson was part of the wreckage of a 4 Tera-Volt collision.
Keep in mind the Standard Model is a theory, read opinion, and remains as such unless and until each and every component of it is empirically proven through successfully repeated confirmatory experimental testing. There are competing “theories” and which, if any, prevail is yet to be determined. In 2015, the Large Hadron Collider will be operated at a new record 6.5 Tera-Volts, and we may find particles heavier than the Higgs Boson, which are predicted in some of the competing theories, or find something nobody predicted or expected and open a new portal into our understanding of the Universe. We’ll see.
The significance of the “tentative” confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson is that it brings the Standard Model closer to being a great theory, with the potential to one day becoming a scientific truth, or fact. In this Universe, that is as close to certitude about anything one can ever get.
The good thing about a great theory is that it stands up over time, and is never disproved — not even once. Thus, although for the longest time, many astute thinkers believed (theorized) the world was flat, upstarts such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus chipped away at the notion, the former being the first to sail from Europe to India and the latter from Europe to North America (the Vikings may have beat him, but they didn’t publish) and the flat earth theory fully disproved when Ferdinand Magellan, and his crew, became the first to circumnavigate the globe.
The examples in history of popularly accepted “facts” ultimately having been shown to be utter nonsense are legion. Dare I mention a few more? The Sun orbits the Earth. Wrong! The Earth is the center of the Universe. Wrong! All matter is made up of air, earth and fire. Wrong! The first true slave owner in what was the colony of Virginia was a white man. Wrong! (It was a black man, Anthony Johnson, and if you doubt my assertion, Google his name and look up the colonist, not the NBA player.) The oldest known man-made structure is, take your pick, Stonehenge, if all you care about is a structure, or the Pyramids, if the structure must be in the form of a building. Both wrong! If you doubt this assertion, Google the Gobekli Tepe and report back.
Does anyone perceive a point here? If you do, you are ready to see the correlation of the tentative discovery of the Higgs Boson to the efforts of the governing class to control the rights of the governed to keep and bear arms. If you don’t, you need to ponder the foregoing a bit more. Try doing so with a glass of wine or similar beverage that will help pry open your mind to allow some light and air in. At least enough to grasp that we are daily bombarded with assertions dressed up as facts that are really mere opinion or outright lies, and the only person responsible for discerning which of the three it is, is you! How does one do that? Well, when it’s published, read my book, “The Reason Why,” but until then, be very critical and skeptical of every assertion dressed to look like a fact, and see what it’s based on. Particularly when pondering matters political, historical and scientific.
The aftermath of a violent massacre of innocent people by one or more miscreants employing firearms doesn’t project to be an emotionally secure starting point to begin pondering the notions of the right to bear arms and the power of the state to control their possession and use, but given the ferocity of the debate from both sides, it may be more apt than one might initially think. What is needed is the proper starting point, if such a node exists.
I’ll start by noting that the notion of the sanctity (in the sense of being inviolable) of human life is older than recorded history. As the historical record indicates human beings are not particularly noted for their consistent civility towards one another, the notion of having a “right” to defend ones’-self against attack, is apparently ancient and sensible. One needn’t struggle with religious or generically ethical notions to grasp why this is so, as, if one ponders it a bit further, the evidence in Nature of an instinctive exercise of self-defense is overwhelming.
Consider our own human bodies, that come equipped with a variety of reflex muscular reactions that tend to protect us against too much light (pupil retraction, squinting and blinking) too much heat (the hand jerked away from a hot stove) and too much force directed at our bodies (the instinct to duck or fend off a blow.) So too, we have immune systems that routinely (when functioning properly) and without prodding, detect and attack antibodies that threaten our otherwise healthy organs, muscle and other tissues. As best as I can discern, noone has ever attempted to restrict or control our bodies’ “natural right” to such self-defenses.
While it is true that governments purport to regulate what drugs we might ingest to assist in such self-defense, by and large, at least here in the U.S., thus far such regulations pertain mostly to keeping the products of pure quackery off the shelves and to control access to habit-forming or mind altering compounds that might induce the user to do harm to themselves or others, while under the influence of same. Alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs have all been regulated and controlled under such notions, and attempts to ban their use entirely have utterly failed, whenever and wherever attempted. Why? Because the human demand for them is stronger than the fear of reprisal or punishment for their use.
To wax “physical,” so to speak, the demand for these drugs is the “strong nuclear force” and the laws purporting to regulate them the “electromagnetic force.” A poor metaphor, I agree, as the laws of physics work as described, without exception, and the laws of government work, only when the governed agree to be “governed.” Given our prison populations, the numerous civil wars being waged presently, and the number of people who break laws daily but are never caught, the human desire to exercise free will is much stronger than the desire to be regulated, rendering the latter notion weaker than gravity or the weak nuclear force.
If you doubt this last assertion of mine, which is at bottom, an opinion, bear in mind you are breaking the law each and every time you drive your car faster than the posted speed limit; or with a blood alcohol level higher than the presently permissible .08; and, each and every time you notice the cashier at Home Depot didn’t ring up one of the items in your shopping cart, and you walked out without saying so; and, thus, in myriad and sundry other ways, too numerous to mention, but nevertheless situations where we know of an enacted restriction on our behavior and choose to indulge in it anyway.
In the end, the Framers of our Constitution hit the nail on the head. Government doesn’t give power to the people. It is precisely vice versa, people give power to the government, by giving up some of the “unalienable Rights” they were born with, specifically, some of their rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” in exchange for governmental supervision of what is supposed to be an ordered society. When those entrusted with the reins of government screw up, become oppressive in their administration of their public charge, history has shown time and again, the “governed” rise up and replace the governors with a new set, until they screw up too.
What do we “give up” in exchange for governance? Lots of things, but all being part of yielding our inherent right to do whatever it is we want to do, whenever we want to do it, in whatever manner we choose to. The ability to do just that came with each of us, as a starter package, and is known familiarly as “free will.” Admittedly, we humans require a certain amount of time to be physically and mentally able to exercise our individual “free will” to the greatest possible extent, but we get there sooner than you perhaps might think. An infant being urged to ingest some nourishing ground peas, or squash or spinach or whatever, exercises its free will to decline the offer by spitting it back at the offeror. A school aged child returns from class with a homework assignment; and, left unsupervised, plays video games instead. By the time we are old enough to enter the workforce, we have a panoply of individual preferences for how we like to expend the ever diminishing amount of time we are allotted to spend here in this world, and modulate our behavior accordingly.
You do a day’s or week’s work for an agreed upon amount of compensation for your efforts and expect a paycheck reflecting that sum. Not so fast. Government acts as such through people, who, regardless of how little they do, or how efficaciously, want to be paid too. Who pays them? The governed. Welcome to taxes. As we as a society have modernized, governments don’t just pass laws, they build things (roads, bridges, tunnels, public housing, you name it) maintain things (parks, sanitation, the infrastructure that was built) and provide defense against would be intruders, from without (the armed services) and within (police), and thus drive up the cost of being governed, read, raise more taxes. It doesn’t end there. We as a society want our children educated (public schools); our property saved from fire and natural disaster (fire departments and FEMA); a court system that administers civil and criminal justice (federal, state and municipal courts); and, a myriad of other things, all of which cost money to provide, and thus requires higher and higher amounts of tax revenues.
You save up what’s left of your weekly paycheck after taxes, and after then paying your rent, food and whatever other bills you have, amass enough money to buy or lease a car. Fresh from the factory, it will go as fast as 120 mile an hour. Why? In every State other than Texas, the fastest you can lawfully drive is 65 miles an hour, on certain designated roadways and a lot less in cities and towns. Another intrusion by governance. You want to speed your way down the pike. Because high speed collisions kill and maim more people than low speed ones, your freedom to drive at whatever speed you would like to is curtailed, for the “greater good.” That you have the driving skills of a Formula One race-car driver is utterly irrelevant. If caught speeding, you get a fine, and if you get caught speeding enough times, can have your license suspended or revoked altogether. Yet, no amount of legislation or severity of fines ever stopped drivers from speeding, as those hell bent on speed retain the free will to run the risk of capture and punishment.
Not too long ago, if you were a male and over 18 years of age, whether you wanted to or not, you could be conscripted into one of our armed services for a 2 year tour of duty, to contribute to our national defense, and maybe take a bullet to the head or be wounded by one. That too was a trade off of free will for governance. Still further back in time, but less than a hundred years ago, economically, every denizen of the United States was on their own — if they couldn’t afford to pay their rent, they were evicted, if they didn’t have enough money to buy food, they starved, or begged for hand-outs; if they didn’t save up for retirement, they worked till they died. When the Great Depression hit, the collective will of the governed changed, and demanded a safety net be strung up, below which none of our citizens could fall. In response, government instituted Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, Medicare, Medicaid and Welfare. All noble notions, all necessary, to some degree, to remedy the specific ills they were enacted to address; and, each fantastically expensive, and paid for by the governed, through their taxes.
Now, in order to ensure every American (and apparently ever non-American who has managed to slip in, lawfully or otherwise) has health coverage, we have enacted “Obamacare.” Another noble notion, funded through yet another incursion into individual freedom and the taxpayers’ pocketbooks. Who needs health insurance? Vital young men and women aged 18 to 35? Mostly not. It is the older, weather worn denizens who are now experiencing the ravages of advanced age and a lifetime of bad habits and poor choices who need medical treatment and thus health insurance. But if those who needed coverage were the only ones in the insurance pool, the cost of same would be prohibitive. The only way to ensure premiums could be held down to some manageable level was to force those who don’t need (or want) coverage to join in anyway. Another tax, another incursion into individual freedom. Why? Did not the unhealthy among our older population get there largely by exercising their free will to live unhealthily? Why do those who have yet to squander their youth and vitality in the exercise of their free will have to pay for those who already did?
If one pays attention to the current vernacular, the benefits available under the governmental safety net that has been established are now called “entitlements,” thus suggesting those on the receiving end have a right to same. I’d go along with that designation, to the extent it was restricted to those who actually paid in their taxes over the years for same. But it is naive to believe those are all that’s on the receiving end. When one looks at what is being disbursed, collectively, between federal, state and local governments, as “entitlements,” it would appear our society has accumulated a rather large collection of…shall we say chronic recipients of governmental largesse, who are unmotivated to stand on their own, fully or partially?
There comes a time when the sheer weight of the load for those who are asked to carry it, reaches a breaking point. The stress fractures abound, and are documented by the increasing number of economically failing municipalities Stateside, and economically failing member Countries of the Economic Union in Europe. What happens when the stress fractures result in a complete break? I don’t know, but I’m fairly confident we are about to find out.
In setting up this narrative, I posited the notion that one of the things we, as a society, agreed to pay for, through taxes, and encroachment on our individual freedom to do what we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, is police protection. In the forefront of that notion is the acknowledgment that some of us humans, in the exercise of free will, determine to not only speed or drive while intoxicated, but to engage in all sorts of antisocial behavior as well, murder, rape, robbery, assault and arson being in the lead in the degree of “antisociality.” It is a reasonable enough trade off in conception, but do we really get the benefit of the bargain?
If you are walking down a darkened street one night, and are accosted by a gun, knife or club wielding miscreant, who demands your wallet, and a manned patrol car or beat cop is not there to stop the robbery in progress, do you have a claim against the local police for failing to protect you? Nope. What if some miscreants break into your house instead, and relieve you of some of your hard earned personal effects, and the cops don’t recover any of it, or capture the miscreants who did it? No recovery. The answer is the same if you find yourself raped, sodomized, beaten-up or outright murdered. What gives? We pay taxes for police protection, and when we don’t get it, have no recourse? Apparently so. That being so, a rational person might be inclined to arm him or herself against such unwelcomed incursions into their personal safety and property. Welcome to the gun control debate.
The animal kingdom that is alleged by we humans, other than those who identify with PETA, to be lower forms of life, have a panoply of species born with built-in self defense mechanisms to protect their denizens from outside attack, such as porcupines and their quills, skunks and their aerosol spray of a distinctive and quite durable aroma, and myriad others, with horns, antlers, claws, heightened senses of smell and quick feet, to name but a few. This strikes me as more than mere coincidence, and proof of a pervasive instinct for survival and a Natural Law of a right to self-defense when survival is threatened. Insects have their defenses too, from stingers, camouflaged colorings and quick feet. Roaches don’t need a siren to know when to scurry off — just a light switched on.
This Natural Right to Self-defense is implicit in the very way life works, as most of what are considered to be “living” creatures are part of some other creatures’ food chain. One celled organisms are food for slightly more complex organisms and those for still more complex ones, each succeeding group tending to be larger and more complex. Within each group denizens have whatever defense mechanisms they have. Some make it, others don’t, and in not doing so, become ingested in a higher form of life as fuel. At the extreme end of the chart, we have sperm whales feeding off of giant squid — where sometimes the squid wins.
From the dawn of time to the present, there is absolutely no evidence that any denizen of the animal kingdom fomented a revolution to protest the way things work, other than we humans, who have no natural predators, other than ourselves, and in that regard, history indicates we’ve done a hell of a job, preying on ourselves.
Unscientific though it be, the Bible is a repository of ancient and largely ethical thought. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, in the very first Book, Genesis, by Chapter 4 we have our first homicide, with Cain killing his brother, Abel. We can reasonably infer neither a handgun nor a firearm of any other type was used, as they hadn’t been invented yet. The Bible doesn’t actually mention the precise instrumentality Cain used, but a stick, club, rock or similar blunt instrument would be a logical contender, particularly as the prescribed method of “putting to death” miscreants in the remainder of the Old Testament was stoning, See, e.g., Leviticus 20:27, 24:16; and, Numbers 15:35.
Induced death abounds both in the Bible and in actually recorded history. The oldest death sentence recorded is found in ancient Egypt, in the Amherst papyri, where a teenaged male in 1500 B.C. was sentenced to kill himself by either poison or stabbing for practicing magic. We may safely assume there were prior death sentences handed down that antedated this one by millennia, but this is the first recorded one, remarkable for a number of notions, including the young age of the condemned, the alleged violation and the means of execution, which was to be self-inflicted.
War is the quintessential example of humans being predatory on other humans. The earliest recorded evidence of same is a fragmentary record of a Mesopotamian war between the city-states of Umma (a/k/a Sumer, in what is now Iraq) and Lagash (a/k/a Elam, in what is now Iran) that took place about 2,700 BC. We may rationally assume many more were fought before then, just not recorded. Indeed, there is some physical evidence of earlier wars having been fought, in the form of balls of stone and clay found at an archeological dig in the northeast of Syria, which were likely utilized as munitions around 6,000 years ago. That all these wars were fought in what is now the Mid-east is purely coincidental…or is it?
Wars are ostensibly fought for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, by reason of specification, turf (e.g., land, food, water); plunder (e.g., gold, precious stones, slaves); religious convictions (e.g., the Crusades); and, a panoply of other asserted political and economic reasons. Whether any ever fought were justified is open to debate, but as they are a fact, and need only an aggressor with the will to start one, the Natural Right to Self-defense strongly suggests political entities be prepared to defend against one, just in case.
War is but the grand example of humans being predatory on other humans. On the smaller, more personal and local scale is the myriad of violent crimes perpetrated by one or more humans against others, including the aforementioned assault, robbery, rape and murder. Every modern and most historical societies have recognized the right of the intended victim to defend against these threatened acts of violence with force, deadly if need be. I posit that the political recognition of that right is no more than an acknowledgment of the Natural Right to Self-defense founded in the very nature of life itself. To believe otherwise is to accept that a political association of whatever size and complexity has a right to deny its denizens of that very right, and demand submission to any and every threat of violence.
There have been such societies, Nazi Germany being a lead example. The historical record amply documents that many countries in the rest of Europe were content to look the other way as the Nazis purged Germany of what the governing class deemed, “undesirables.” The European blind eye continued to stare blankly as Austria and the Sudetenland were subdued. It took the Nazi invasion of Poland to prompt England and France into a declaration of war. By the time the U.S. got into the fray, in December of 1941, the Nazis had conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Greece, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, their troops had reached the outskirts of Moscow and controlled North Africa. None of these countries asked to be invaded. What matters, and is the real point, is that these things happen, whether we want them to or not, and are perpetrated regardless of the weaponry available in any given era.
Follow the time line and see if you can’t discern that the development of weaponry is paralleled by the development of defenses to same, of varying degrees of efficacy. Primal humans, lacking tools, used what was available at the time. A rock or a club. Defenses? A shield or ducking. Then they learned to sharpen sticks, put edges on stones and make spears and lash rocks to their clubs and make maces. Defenses? Bigger, thicker shields, perhaps some rudimentary form of helmet too. A little later, someone figured out that launching the weaponry had two advantages. It could add power to the thrust and distance between the hunter and the hunted, animal or human. Enter the sling for rocks, and bows and arrows for smaller spearheads. Defenses? Still better shields and body armor of a rudimentary fashion. Catapults were developed to launch rocks, fire and whatever else could cause damage to the recipient. Defenses? Walls, moats and parapets. Enter the bronze and iron ages and the quality of weaponry, and armor, leaped forward. Sharpened swords, knives, pikes, lances, spears and axes against leather and metal plate armor and helmets. Plate armor gave way mail armor, for greater flexibility and lower weight. Swords got lighter and sharper for greater ease of handling and better penetration. There is no recorded evidence, whatsoever, of a clamor for sword control or registration. Why the burgeoning propagation of weaponry? It seems to me to be fundamental logic that so long as some humans were inclined to make better ones, and use them to kill or subdue other humans, like it or not, the rest of the available humans had to keep up, or perish.
Enter gunpowder in 12th Century China, and the pace picked up. Rockets, fire lances and ultimately cannons and mortars developed quickly. The discovery spread to Europe and the Mid-east by the 14th Century and by the 15th century everybody had gunpowder powered weaponry except Japan, which got it in the 16th Century. The earliest long arms were rudimentary forms of shotguns, then refined to muzzle loading rifles that spat ball shot and ultimately into breach loading rifles that fired cartridges that contained both the gunpowder and the bullet. Pistols were developed too, initially miniature versions of their long arm cousins, then parroting their development, from flint-lock fired muzzle loaders to cartridge firing revolvers and clip loaded side arms.
With the advent of modern technology and mass production, the power, accuracy and speed of delivery all were improved upon, yielding automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and a panoply of motorized weaponry, including tanks, armored cars and self-propelled cannons. The advent of air power added the ability to deliver ordinance from the air, with ever-increasing accuracy and payloads, culminating in the development of nuclear arsenals, capable of delivery by conventional bomber, land or sea launched missiles and even tactical field launched rockets.
Viewed thusly, from a historical perspective, an awful lot of human thought and energy went into developing weaponry — not always by the aggressors. American ingenuity raised the bar in many of the specific classes of weapons, but other than our having subdued, sometimes by force, our natural coast to coast borders, have not set out for any world conquest or establishment of a colonial empire. We are, however, a nation born out of protest against bad governance and perceived oppressive taxation; and, since birth, have prized the notion of individual freedom, and guarded against any and all but the most necessary incursions. The inclusion of a perceived right to keep and bear arms in our Bill of Rights, alongside such other fundamental rights as those of freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion, was no more, or less, than recognition that the latter iterated freedoms could only be guaranteed by a citizenry that had the wherewithal and the will to fight, when necessary, to protect them.
The Framers of the Constitution were acutely aware that our nascent nation was born out of armed rebellion against its former colonial governance. They also understood that any government that grew too powerful and controlling would be as oppressive as the one they had just rebelled against. That recognition was precisely why the Constitution articulated a federal government of limited powers, and the Bill of Rights underscored the key situations in which the government was directed not to tread. In framing matters in that manner, the Founders gave cognition to the possibility that at some future time, a governing class might emerge that might attempt to exceed their limited powers, and require removal in much the same way King George and his cohorts were removed in the beginning. That notion is expressly embedded in the Declaration of Independence, in the following assertion:
“…When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation….”
How does one “dissolve political bands?” Well, the Founders issued their Declaration of Independence, but King George was under-impressed and we fought a Revolutionary War. That effectively dissolved whatever political bands theretofore existed between us and Great Britain. Some 86 or so years later, the Confederate States declared themselves to be a separate political entity, based on their collective perception of a need to dissolve their political bands with the Union. We then fought a very bloody Civil War to test that assertion, and discovered it to be lacking. Both of those wars, and all thereafter, were fought with firearms, not spitballs.
Like it or not, the Earth has been and continues to be a pretty violent place and is littered with weapons. How many? Nobody really knows, because there is no uniform way of tallying, yet we know from reported instances of wars, armed uprisings and violent crimes that there is quite a supply out there, and more made each year. With a world history that is as just described, is it not stultifyingly naive to expect the world, or any particular country within it, to disarm? Governments don’t disarm. They may attempt to disarm their citizenry, but that’s just to protect the governors from the governed. If you doubt this assertion, name one government, from the dawn of time to the present, that voluntarily disarmed? There are none. Some, such as Costa Rica, Grenada, Liechtenstein and roughly 13 other “countries” have no standing armies, but they do have armed police forces, and no presently subsisting natural enemies looking to take over their land. Most have a neighboring, larger country to look to for defense, should the need ever arise.
The debate over gun control should be rational, philosophical and measured, not a shouting match or a war of statistics, even though several of the latter are instructive. The problem with using statistics to evaluate a notion such as the merits of gun control is that the statistics are only as good as the database from which they are supplied, and that is often difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain with any acceptable degree of reliability. Here are a few examples of statistics that seem to pass muster.
It is alleged that the United States is the most heavily armed citizenry of any country on Earth. Reuters reports that U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, which works out to roughly 90 guns for every 100 people. According to the same survey, Yemen had the second most heavily armed citizenry, with 61 guns per 100 people, followed by Finland with 56, Switzerland with 46, Iraq with 39 and Serbia with 38. I’m going to throw in Venezuela 10.7, the Republic of South Africa 12.7 and Brazil 8, and you’ll see why in a minute.
Those statistics might suggest that because we lead in per capita gun ownership, we likewise lead in per capita gun violence, but that is simply not true. That distinction goes to Venezuela which had a gun homicide rate of 38 for every 100,000 people, followed by Brazil, with 18.1 and the Republic of South Africa with 17. Where was the U.S.? At 3.5 for every 100,000 people, if you exclude gun induced suicides, which I believe is apt, as the “victim” of the suicide is also the “perpetrator” and may have had a right to take his or her own life, and may well have done so anyway, if relegated to using a knife, poison or an overdose of drugs.
What about the rest of the top 5 gun owners per capita? Yemen 4.2, Finland 0.26, Switzerland with 0.52, Iraq 2.0 and Serbia 0.62. For our purposes, these are not “facts” in the sense my connotation of that term is intended to convey. We don’t have adequate information regarding how the numbers were generated and with what degree of reliability to canonize them as facts. Yet, they are useful in the same manner that statistically gathered data from particle accelerator experiments and cosmological observations are, as some indicia of where things stand.
If so, what should these statistics suggest to a rational human being? Perhaps that it is not the availability of the weaponry, but the mind-set of the weapon-holder that matters. Venezuelans manage to perpetrate roughly 10 times the gun homicides we do, with only 10% of the weaponry per capita, but they had, until recently, Cesar Chavez as their inspiration. By the way, Venezuela is classified as “restrictive” in its gun ownership laws, requiring applicants for firearm licenses to pass background checks, which include consideration of mental and criminal records. The U.S. is classified as “permissive” in its gun ownership laws, which considers those rights to be guaranteed by the Constitution.
One more bit of statistics before we shift to pure logic. On September 13, 1994, Congress passed and then President Clinton immediately signed into law, an assault weapons ban, that expired on September 13, 2004. That gives us a roughly 19 year window to examine its efficacy as it pertains to gun related crimes. My source for these statistics is the good old FBI, which has a database compiling same since 1960. In 1995, the first full year following passage of the law, there were 13,673 homicides perpetrated with guns, or a rate of 5.1 gun homicides per 100,000 of population. In 2004, the year of expiration of the assault weapons ban, there were 9,326 homicides perpetrated with guns, or a rate of 3.2 gun homicides per 100,000 of population, suggestive of the assault weapons ban being efficacious. Yet in 2011, the last full year for which we have data, there were 8,583 homicides perpetrated with guns, even though assault weapons could lawfully be acquired for 7 years. That’s a rate of 2.7 gun homicides per 100,000 of population. Now what? These “statistics” come from a source considered highly reliable, may not be pin-point accurate enough to be deemed “facts;” but, are a highly credible basis for making some observations, one of which is, despite the volume of rhetoric urging reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, the data strongly suggests gun homicides continued to decline even after the original ban expired. That suggests gun use for violent purposes may be driven by something other than mere availability.
Guns have the capacity to be dangerous instrumentalities, so do motor vehicles. Which are more dangerous to society? If the body count matters at all, motor vehicles kill lots more people every year than guns do. In 1995, motor vehicles accounted for 41,817 deaths, 3.1 times greater than the gun homicide rate. In 2004, motor vehicles accounted for 42,836 deaths, 4.6 times greater than the gun homicide rate. In 2011, motor vehicles accounted for 32,367 deaths, 3.8 times greater than the gun homicide rate. Are these “facts?” No! They’re pretty damned accurate statistics, but could be off by some factor, depending upon how the data was gathered. It is highly unlikely they are off by a factor of 300%, thus the point of the data set remains valid. But noone is seriously proposing banning motor vehicles.
If you ponder it a bit, we already have all kinds of “motor vehicle” control. To drive one lawfully, you need a driver’s license, for which you must be of a specified minimum age and minimum competence behind the wheel; your vehicle must be annually inspected to pass operational muster and insured against any losses caused by faulty operation of same. While driving, we have restrictions on the speed you may operate the vehicle at, the amount of blood alcohol or other reaction impairing drugs that may be in your system while doing so; and, restrictions on your self-distraction, by prohibiting texting and hands-on telephone use. Even with the enactment and enforcement of much tougher drunk driving and texting laws, motor vehicles still manage to kill more than 3 times the citizens that guns do, yet, the clamor is to control guns, not cars. Why is that? Could it be that the entrenched governing class isn’t as afraid of being run over as they are of an armed insurrection? Hmmm.
Mother Nature has accounted for some impressive death tolls in recorded history, probably many more in the millenniums of un-recorded history, and well before any alleged man-made global warming. Nature has a variety of weapons in her arsenal to assault us, and the rest of the animal kingdom with, including, flood, earthquake, volcanic eruption, tornado, cyclone (hurricane), drought, famine, pestilence; and, courtesy of her galactic counterpart, meteor/comet strikes, gamma ray bursts, supernovas and planetary collisions. The comparison between Mother Nature’s worst, and human inflicted carnage, is akin that of the “strong nuclear force” against gravity or the “weak nuclear force,” in other words, we are not in the same league. No amount of legislation, from any country, or every country, can control Mother Nature, regardless of what any man-made global warming advocate might tell you.
Just to put some numbers to my assertions, and bearing in mind accurate statistics on death tolls from same have only been kept for roughly the last 200 years, consider the worst floods we have data on occurred in China, in 1887 and 1931, killing, respectively, between 900,000 and 2,000,000; and, 1,000,000 and 4,000,000. The Chinese are not noted for sharing personal data on the inner workings of their country. The Bible and many other ancient texts make reference to great floods that occurred in antiquity.
As to earthquakes, there is the 1556 Shaanxi, China one, which claimed an estimated 830,000 lives, and one which struck in Egypt and Syria in 1201, reputed to have claimed over 1,100,000 lives. For volcanic eruptions, we have the 1976 Tangshan, China one, which killed an estimated 242,000 in the official estimate and as many as 665,000 in unofficial estimates. We also know that in 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius eliminated the city of Pompeii, but don’t have an accurate estimate of how many lived there at the time.
Tornadoes struck in Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh, in 1989, claiming an estimated 1,300 lives; in the U.S. in 1925, in what is called the Tri-State Tornado, which claimed 695 lives; and, in May, 2013, one struck in Oklahoma, and we are still counting the dead. Cyclones in Bangladesh, in 1970, claimed an estimated 500,000 lives, and in 1737, in the same place, claimed another 300,000 lives. For drought we have the 1876-1879 one in China that claimed an estimated 9,000,000 lives; and, for famine, the 1769-1773 one in India, which claimed an estimated 10,000,000 lives, nearly one-third of the then existing population.
Pestilence is perhaps the most deadly of Nature’s afflictions, with the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic claiming between 35,000,000 and 100,000,000 lives, depending upon who did the counting; and, the bubonic plague or Black Death” that killed almost 33 percent of the entire population of Europe, when it struck between 1347 and 1350.
Add to this the theorized occurrences of “mass extinction events” that have struck every 65 million years or so, one wiping out the dinosaurs and another which is calculated to have reduced the human population of the Earth to between 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs about 70,000 years ago, and the murder by gun of 8,583 innocent people in 2011, while tragic, doesn’t suggest we should sua sponte disarm the American citizenry.
The bloodiest massacres perpetrated on American soil didn’t involve the use of guns at all. What? That’s right, no guns, just bombs and airplanes. If you have doubt as to the veracity of this “fact,” consider that the Bath, Michigan School Massacre in 1927 was accomplished with explosives and claimed 44 victims, which is equal to the Columbine and Virginia Tech gun perpetrated massacres combined.
The worst overall domestic terrorist attack? That would be the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1995, accomplished with a rental truck full of fertilizer based explosives, leaving 168 dead. The worst foreign based terrorist attack on U.S. soil? That would be the September 11, 2001 attacks on N.Y.C., PA and the Pentagon, accomplished with box cutters and commercial airliners, killing 2,997 victims and 19 hijackers.
More recently, on April 15, 2013, the brothers Tsarnaev exploded two pressure cooker bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring 264. We already have bomb control, as making same is illegal in every state. The problem is that even if we are prepared to ban the sale of fertilizer and pressure cookers, enterprising miscreants with a will to perpetrate harm will remain able to do so, with little to prevent them from doing so, other than sentinence on our part. These statistics are actual “facts.” The happening of the event on the specified dates are fully documented in the historical record, so is the body count.
You’ll see no mention of the foregoing “facts” in most of the published debate presently being waged to extinguish the American right to bear arms. Instead, you are bombarded with the raw statistics of the most recent atrocities, perpetrated, respectively, on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when Adam Lanza, aged 20, fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members; and, on July 12, 2012, when suspect, James Eagan Holmes, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. These tragedies share something in common — noone, at either site, had a weapon, other than the perpetrator. Is it reasonable to expect that if there were just one person carrying a firearm at each site, some of the carnage could have been averted?
The use of firearms to avert criminal behavior is a remarkably under-reported matter, as was described in a 2012, well reasoned and documented study published by the Cato Institute, entitled “Tough Targets.” The treatise explains why it is that the FBI database consistently over-reports gun homicides and under-reports justifiable use of deadly force. It also notes the myriad ways in which a gun might have been used to avert the commission of a crime, yet not be compiled statistically, because, “nothing happened.” The Cato Institute treatise refers to a study by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz , completed in the 1990s, when violent crime rates were higher than they are today, which found that there were somewhere between 830,000 and 2.45 million defensive gun uses per year in the United States. Those numbers struck me and the researchers at the Cato Institute as being exaggerated. But I did the math. It was estimated there were 198.6 million guns owned in the U.S. in 1995, putting the rate of gun usage to avert criminal behavior at between 0.4% and 1.3%. If you consider that the Kleck and Gertz survey defined a “use” to include: actually firing a weapon, just drawing or showing it; and, merely mentioning possession of one, the numbers sound plausible.
If one separates the rhetoric from the reality, a look at the efficacy of police protection in New York City is instructive. In the early 1990’s, the City was by all accounts a pretty dangerous place, assisted, in part by the crack cocaine epidemic, and despite the existence of the Sullivan Act, which severely restricted the availability of handguns to residents since 1911. Enter the Rudolph Giuliani administration as the mayoralty, beginning in 1994 and ending in 2002, and a precipitous drop in violent crime is experienced, that continues until today.
There are a number of explanations offered for this phenomenon, inclusive of the one offered by Freakonomics authors, Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, who attribute the drop in crime to the legalization of abortion in the 1970s, as they suggest that many would-be neglected children and criminals were never born. Maybe so, but the population in the city only dropped by 500,000 between 1970 and 1990, and since then has increased by over 800,000 to its present 8.175 million residents, yet the crime rates continue to drop. Detailed historical figures on reported cases of child abuse or neglect in New York City are hard to come by, but the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) reports statistics going back to 2000, in which year there were 81,673 children for whom reports of abuse or neglect were filed, compared to 89,619 in 2009. That suggests to me the Freakonomics theory is wanting in statistical proof.
The more conventional wisdom is that the crime rate was dropped by a combination of the adoption of CompStat, (a multilayered dynamic approach to crime reduction, quality of life improvement, and personnel and resource management); broken windows policing, (a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior, which states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime); and, other strategies employed during the Giuliani administration, inclusive of the employment of an increasingly aggressive “stop and frisk” policy, which is now the subject of protests and court proceedings, allegedly because the policy is a form of racial profiling.
As reported by the NYC branch of the ACLU, in 2002, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 97,296 times, of which 80,176 (82 percent) were totally innocent; and, in 2012, the number of police stops had mushroomed to 533,042 times, of which 473,300 (89 percent) were totally innocent. Unmentioned by the ACLU, but implicit in its statistics, is that the respective 18% (14,432) in 2002 and 11% (58,635) in 2012, were not “totally innocent,” whatever that means. Notably, the decrease in overall crime, and increase in “stops and frisks” was effectuated without an increase in the number of police officers, which, inclusive of transit and housing police, stood at 36,340 in 1994, 35,158 in 2004 and 34,800 in 2012. Hmmmm. Population increased, the number of cops went down, but so did crime? How did that happen?
Could it possibly be that the presence of armed, more strategically depolyed police on the City Streets, who sometimes toss suspicious looking figures for weapons or drugs, has a dampening effect on criminal behavior? Call me cynical, but take away the sidearms from the cops, and their efficacy in suppressing criminal behavior projects to take a big dip. Why? Because the 11% of those tossed who are carrying a weapon are no longer afraid of taking a bullet to the body if they don’t submit to a search — and may be more inclined to use their weaponry to avert a search. “Stop in the name of the law” has a hollow ring to it, when the person being commanded to stop is the only one with a weapon.
What jurisdictions have the toughest gun control laws? The leader, bar none, is the District of Columbia, which, in 1977 had a law come into effect that banned the ownership of handguns that hadn’t been registered by February 5, 1977 and required long arms to be locked and unloaded in the home. The law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. But how did it do while in existence? Gun crimes soared after its enactment, with DC becoming known as the “murder capital” of the U.S., and the murder rate by firearm increasing from 188 in 1976 to 369 in 1988 and peeking at 454 in 1993. Based on its population, that gave DC a gun homicide rate of a whopping 78.5 per 100,000 persons in 1993. What happened when the ban was lifted? The gun homicides decreased from 186 in 2008 (31.5 per 100,000 persons) to 88 in 2012 (12.5 per 100,000 persons).
The District of Columbia is not an aberrant example. In 1998 Massachusetts enacted legislation that cut down, quite sharply, the legal use of guns within the state. Within four years, the number of active gun licenses in the State had plummeted, from nearly 1.5 million active gun licenses in 1998, to just 200,000 by June 2002. So how did the tough gun laws fare? In 1998, there were 65 murders committed with firearms in Massachusetts. In 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 murders committed with firearms. Between 1998 and 2011, robbery with firearms climbed 20.7 percent. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.7 percent. What happened? See, http://patriotpost.us/opinion/16803.
Chicago has no gun shops, no civilian gun ranges, bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition clips. Handguns had been outlawed for decades, until the Supreme Court opened the door, just a crack, in 2010. Illinois is the only State in the Union which has no provision allowing its private citizens to carry guns in public. How do they stack up, statistically? In 1990, Chicago had 851 homicides, in 1992 it peeked at 943, in 2011 had 433 and in 2012 had 506, or 18.7 per 100,000 persons, bucking the national downward trend. Those who advocate stricter gun control laws, or outright seizure of all guns, are quick to note that Chicago’s dilemma is due to the availability of guns elsewhere, yet Illinois’ overall homicide rate by gun for 2012 was close to the national average of 3.5 per 100,000 persons. Their theory (yes, it is a theory, read opinion, not a fact, see my “Backward Thinking” trilogy, but I digress) is that if gun ownership were more strictly controlled, all over the place, there would be less gun violence.
The worldwide and national statistics just presented suggest precisely the opposite and for good logical reason. Law abiding people, by definition, obey the laws, just as, by definition, criminals don’t. Pass any gun ban you want, and the only ones who will comply are law abiding people. Ban guns throughout the U.S. and what? Criminals won’t bring them in from Mexico and Canada? Really? Oh, I know, we’ll build a great wall, North and South to keep them out. We can’t seem to get that done to keep out illegal immigrants, but will get it done to keep out guns? Really? The gun runners will build tunnels and bring them in by boat!
Hopefully, the statistics I have laid out for you above have convinced you that such a notion is sheer and utter nonsense. We are the most heavily armed country on Earth, yet have an incidence of gun violence of roughly 3.5% per 100,000 persons which is less by a significant factor, than many other supposedly civilized countries. The real statistic of import is the correlation between gun violence and drug activity, which is rarely discussed, perhaps because to do so is to invite digression into presently unmentionable racial issues.
What about the Higgs Boson? If you think about it, our Constitution is a political theory, much in the same sense that the Standard Model is a scientific one. The Constitution is premised upon a number of beliefs (read theories) as to the relationship between the governors and the governed, and distinctly on the notion that the power of the former is derived solely and exclusively from the latter. Just as tentative proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson is confirmatory of one of the premises of the Standard Model, so too, tentative proof of the erroneousness of the assumptions made in support of gun control is confirmatory of one of the premises of the Constitution, to wit, the posited right to keep and bear arms is capable of being exercised by the governed without fomenting daily or weekly civil insurrections, rampant occurrences of indiscriminate murder and violence; or, repeated attempts by the lawfully armed to subvert the unarmed. Think about that. If the premise of those who favor gun control were true and accurate, how is it that the U.S. citizens owning 270 million firearms aren’t daily out there taking matters into their own hands whenever and wherever a gun would resolve a dispute? The numbers indicate those things happen much more often and to a greater degree in the places where only the criminals possess them. Tell the truth. If you were sitting in your bed one night, and heard someone attempting to forcibly enter your home, which would give you a greater sense of security, a call to 911 or a loaded 12 gauge shotgun? By all means call 911. But if you don’t believe you have a right to have the latter at the ready, just in case the police don’t respond in time, go down and open the door or window being tested, and at least minimize the property damage…and hope your uninvited guest is only looking for some swag.