The media’s dogmatic insistence on ignoring root causes in favor of a pre-determined narrative is getting people killed.
Vox was kind enough to drop us a Valentine’s present with this gem, you can read the full article here.
This Vox article is exactly what you would expect. The narrative was decided before the article was written. The article then proceeds to support the pre-determined narrative. The narrative, in this case, is that “guns are the problem” and no other explanation is explored.
The Vox article attempts to support this position with “studies” which show a correlation between the number of firearms in civilian hands and the number of firearms-related deaths. One sentence is particularly telling:
“Researchers have found a clear link between gun ownership in the US and gun violence, and some argue that it’s causal.”
The “clear link” is a reference to correlation but read the last half again – “and some argue that it’s causal.” We are left to wonder who is referred to by “some.” This is perhaps an unintentional admission that correlation and causation are not the same things. To me, the most important point here is that any discussion of this causal link has been omitted. “Some argue” – where is that argument exactly?
The article goes on to discuss “gun violence” in “high-income” countries but gives no justification for confining the discussion to “high-income” countries. How exactly is the wealth of the country a determining factor here? Is it possible that eliminating the relative wealth of the countries in the study might have resulted in data less supportive of the desired narrative?
The Vox article takes the long way around the barn to say that the reason for the violence on our streets is simply that we have too many guns. It does this without offering any explanation for how a large number of guns cause violence. I have several firearms and none of them whisper in my ear telling me to do bad things.
There is another item missing from the Vox article – the shooter.
The shooter is perhaps the most omitted aspect of any article or news story you will find on the topic of “gun control.” I object to the term “gun violence” because it leaves out the shooter. When we discuss drunk drivers, we don’t say “drunk cars” and we don’t say “car violence” because to do so would detract from the fact that there is a system at play. We say “drunk driver” because there is a person involved here and the person is operating a car while under the influence. Cars don’t kill people without a driver, firearms don’t kill people without a shooter.
How about some studies on the shooters that capture parameters other than the usual race, sex, and age?
History of mental illness
Education level of the shooter’s parents
Income level of the shooter’s parents
Gang association or involvement
Such studies may yield some useful signals.
Instead, the media will continue to repeat the dogma that the problem is “too many guns” without ever explaining the causal mechanism just like the continued dogma about “systemic racism” with no objective examples of systemic racism.
In the real world of root cause analysis, we use the term “causal sufficiency.” This refers to the idea that one factor may or may not be sufficient to be a cause in and of itself. Sometimes it takes more than one factor to arrive at causal sufficiency.
A firearm alone can not kill a person – no causal sufficiency. A firearm and a criminal meet the causal sufficiency requirement. However, a criminal without a firearm can also meet the causal sufficiency requirement. People can kill people without firearms, but firearms cannot kill people without people.
It was once again my honor to participate in another roundtable discussion on Rucksack Radio recently. Our host was Tom and the guest host was Dr. Robert Mather with Bryan and me on the panel. We discussed bias and cause and effect.
In a subsequent podcast of his own, Dr. Mather had some interesting comments on cause and effect (he was commenting on the Rucksack show). Specifically, Dr. Mather questioned where we can or should draw the line when discussing cause and effect. The examples presented in the Rucksack show went several layers deep. Dr. Mather pointed out in his show that at some point this may not yield the answer we are after. His example was the progressive argument that ultimately “the system” is the root cause and therefore we must change the system.
Going back to root cause analysis as I use it though, we do have a practical definition for where to draw the line. Is the root cause you have identified actionable (or perhaps more accurately, is it reasonably actionable)? If the root cause of some problem was an earthquake, for example, you can’t do much about it.
I would argue that where illegal shootings are concerned, the actionable cause is the shooter.
The Vox article claims that about half the firearms in the United States are owned by about 3% of the population which it calls “super owners.” The trouble is, criminal shooters don’t fit into this category – from the reports I’ve read, they do not own an average of 17 firearms (that tends to blow up the notion that the volume of firearms is the cause). The Vox article also admits that we don’t really know how many privately owned firearms are out there. Further, Vox claims we have a “thriving black market” for firearms which could reasonably be assumed to be an admission that current firearms laws are not being enforced. To summarize, it seems obvious to me that Vox is admitting here that removing all firearms from private hands is not a reasonable possibility – in other words, the “cause” identified here is not actionable.
There are actionable items regarding the shooter. Beginning with enforcing existing law.
The shooting at Michigan State, which prompted the update to the Vox article and the writing of this article, was carried out by a person who it now appears was suicidal and who would have been legally barred from purchasing or possessing a firearm had he been properly charged for a previous violation of existing firearms law. How does the number of guns in private hands figure into this? It doesn’t. Are there actionable items tied to this shooter? Yes, there are.
Ignoring the root cause does not solve problems, it perpetuates them.
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When discussing “gun violence” of course “gun ownership” will play a part: The gun owner will use a gun to defend her/himself. This is then tallied up as “gun violence” even though the use of the gun was likely defensive.
This is why, whenever I see an argument that seeks mitigation of “gun violence,” I know I’m dealing with a specious argument. I don’t see why we should get worked up over gun violence when we don’t seem to regulate other tools of violence. We already have laws against assault, robbery, murder and the like. Are these things supposed to be worse when some depraved idiot uses a gun? I don’t think so.