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Why Some People May Reasonably Prefer Nonlethal Weapons Over Guns:

[This is part of a series of posts drawn from my Nonlethal Self-Defense, Nonlethal Weapons, and the Rights To Keep and Bear Arms, Defend Life, and Practice Religion (forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review). For footnotes, and for the rest of the argument, check out the full draft; I will also post most of the rest of the argument in the coming days.]

Some people are especially reluctant to use lethal force or possess lethal tools, even when they legally can. There are many possible reasons for this, some of which may be mutually reinforcing:

(1) Some people have religious or ethical compunctions about killing.

(2) Some feel they will be emotionally unable to pull the trigger on a deadly weapon even when doing so would be ethically proper.

(3) Some worry about erroneously killing someone who turns out not to be an attacker.

(4) Some are reluctant to kill a particular potential attacker, for instance when a woman doesn't want to kill her abusive ex-husband because she doesn't want to have to explain to her children that she killed their father, even in self-defense.

(5) Some fear a gun they own might be misused, for instance by their children or by a suicidal adult housemate. It's not clear whether the availability of guns actually increases the risk of suicide, given the availability of other comparably lethal means, but it's at least reasonable to be concerned about the possibility that a gun would make suicide more likely. And this is especially so because some people might feel especially emotionally traumatized if their guns are used by a family member or friend to commit suicide, even if they suspect that the suicide would have happened in any event.

These are not just esthetic preferences, such as a person's desire to have a particular gun that he most likes, or that has special sentimental value (for instance, his father's military-issue weapon), when other equally effective guns are available. Perhaps even those esthetic preferences should be respected in the absence of particularly good reasons to disregard them. But there should be even more respect for preferences that stem from understandable and even laudable moral belief systems and emotional reactions, or reasonable worries about the risk that a gun might be abused. Even if one thinks (as I do) that killing in self-defense is morally proper, people who take the opposite view should be presumptively free to act on their beliefs without having to go without the most effective self-defense tools.

(A few people might be able to learn unarmed self-defense techniques. But many people can't, because they are physically disabled or otherwise not strong enough. Many others might lack the time needed to train themselves in such techniques, especially if they have work or family obligations. And even those who are comparatively well-trained might end up being considerably less effective with their limbs alone than they would be with a stun gun.)

Naturally, many people don't have such worries, or conclude that the value of having a gun for self-defense overcomes such worries. Both firearms and nonlethal weapons can stop people, and can deter through the risk of pain or incapacitation leading to arrest. But firearms have the major extra deterrent force of threatening death: That's why "I have a gun!" is more likely to cause an attacker to flee than "I have a stun gun!"

Also, civilian stun guns today are good only for one shot. After the cartridge is shot, the stun gun can only be used in direct contact mode. This makes stun guns less useful than firearms against multiple attackers, or when the defender misses with the first shot.

But this just shows that many people may reasonably prefer firearms for self-defense. It doesn't undermine the legitimacy of other people's preference for stun guns or irritant sprays instead of firearms.

A ban on stun guns would be a less substantial burden if other nonlethal weapons remained available and were pretty much as effective for self-defense purposes. But batons and similar devices generally aren't as effective at stopping the attacker with one blow, and, to be even moderately effective, they require strength that many defenders don't possess.

Stun guns also appear to be materially more effective than irritant sprays. Pepper spray (the most effective irritant spray in use today) may still leave the attacker able to attack, though he is distracted and in pain. It's especially likely to be ineffective when the attacker is less sensitive to pain because he's drunk or on drugs. To be most effective, pepper spray requires a hit on the suspect's face rather than, as with a stun gun, any part of the suspect's body. Pepper spray may in part blow back at the defender, which can leave the defender especially vulnerable if the attacker isn't entirely stopped. And pepper spray has an effective range of only about 7 feet (about the average width of a car), as opposed to 15 feet for modern stun guns. Since an attacker can lunge 7 feet in a split second, pepper spray gives a defender less time to react.

Pepper spray does have advantages. It can be used at a distance more than once, which is useful when one misses the first time, or needs to fight off multiple attackers. It's also much cheaper than a stun gun. Bans on carrying irritant sprays would thus also materially interfere with people's ability to defend themselves, even if stun guns were an available option. But that just reflects that different defensive devices are optimal for different people, and that banning either one may materially interfere with the ability of many people to defend themselves.

[More on the arguments in favor of such nonlethal weapons restrictions, even when when guns are allowed, in coming posts.]

Oren:
(3b) Some people don't trust their aim enough not to kill innocent bystanders. Quite a bit of training is required to accurately use a handgun in self-defense.

(3c) Some people fear killing someone behind their target (snub nose ammo helps here) in a crowded situation.

(6) Some people fear defending their shooting in court where nonlethal defense will be much more palatable to the jury.
4.16.2009 12:16pm
MCM (mail):
As to (5), I think the real concern is not about the likelihood of suicide itself, but the increased effectiveness of a suicide attempt.

I've read most suicide attempts are unsuccessful. Suicide attempts using guns are generally more successful.
4.16.2009 12:34pm
Tim H. (mail):
Hi, New to the site. I'm a liberal law student, but to say the least I find the sight engaging and interesting.

My thoughts on this post are generally positive.

Yet I'd like to add one more reason, why I would never want a gun.

Some of us just aren't that concerned about needing to protect myself with a gun. Violent Crime, while still a problem, has been on a steady decline/platteau since the 1980's. Simply put there are many more logical worries such as heart disease, being hit by a drunk driver, cancer, etc.

If my time comes because I'm the victim of gun violence, maybe a gun would have changed things. Maybe not. Either way, I'm not going to live my life in fear. If it happens, it happens. I see guns for self defense as a fake way to take control in your own mortality. Does it work for some? Sure. But it's not my cup of tea.
4.16.2009 12:36pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Tim H.
Good for you. I presume you will not be working to require the rest of us to live that way?
Also, see "free rider".
4.16.2009 12:39pm
Gun Owner:
Professor Volokh-
I own a semi-automatic pistol which I carry legally in the state of Ohio most everywhere I go. Of course there are restrictions with my concealed carry permit, but when I can, I take my gun along in case I ever get into a situation where I might need it.

Last summer that happened. On my way home a driver got angry at me for cutting him off [which I regrettably did do] and followed me own. When I pulled into my apartment complex he followed and parked next to me. After a heated exchange with some threatening language from this man he indicated that we was going to get out of his car and come at me [physically].

I decided it was time to pull my firearm. Note that there is some question on whether this is legal or not. According to my criminal prosecution professor, I committed aggravated menacing because he was just getting out of his car, and my car was a buffer between the two of us. I, however, thought that I was in danger enough that the situation warranted it. Regardless, I would do the exact same if I was presented with the same situation.

My main reason for pulling my gun when I did was that I did not want to kill this person. I was more than willing to if I needed to protect myself, but I did not want to. I thought that by pulling my gun when I did, he would stop and leave, thus deescalating the situation. That is exactly what happened.

I present this to you because I don't know of anyone that actually would want to kill someone. I am in the United States Marine Corps and am very familiar with firearms, but still, I didn't want to have to pull the trigger.
4.16.2009 12:41pm
Steve Sund (mail):
Tim, I view carrying a gun much as would any other type of "safety tool", such as a fire extinguisher or a seat belt. Chances are, I will never need to use any of them, but the risk is unacceptable. If I do need one of them and do not have them, then I risk serious injury or death.


I see guns for self defense as a fake way to take control in your own mortality.


How is it fake? There are numerous instances every year in the US where people use guns to prevent a violent attack.
4.16.2009 12:46pm
cirby (mail):
Well, you're going to eventually die anyway, so why not let J. Random Mugger make the choice of date for you?
4.16.2009 12:48pm
MJN1957:
(3b) I am comfortable that the factual record will show a very, very low ratio of defensive-shots-fired to innocent-persons-hit due either to a miss or a shoot-thru. I'm pretty sure that the record will show that the bad guy's random shooting or poor skills will result in many more innocents hit than the off-chance of a defender hitting an innocent.

(3c) Some people do have that fear...but that concern is mooted by even the most rudimentary mental prep. Stopping the attack immediately is the safer option for both the victim and surrounding innocents. Failing to act immediately, with the best directed shot you can muster under the circumstances, permits the bad guy to endanger everyone within range while a defender's controlled shot has a very narrow danger lane, which can be moderated with minimal proprietary knowledge.

(6)Again, some people do have that fear...but the pendulum is swinging in the direction of "follow the rules and you are safe from prosecution" in most states (like my home-state of Alabama).
4.16.2009 12:48pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
Professor, I do not carry either a stun gun or irritant sprays, but it seems an obvious advantage of pepper spray over a stun gun that you do not mention is the handiness of it. Much easier to carry pepper spray around with you than a stun gun.
4.16.2009 12:52pm
cboldt (mail):
-- I thought that by pulling my gun when I did, he would stop and leave, thus deescalating the situation. That is exactly what happened. --
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I met a stranger in an airport while traveling. Gun legislation was the subject of some teevee drivel, and we took up the subject. He's roughly a pacifist, and recounted to me how he was surprised and disappointed when his adult daughter (in Ohio) decided to obtain a CC permit. He went on to recount a story that ends the same way yours does. She was jogging alone, passed a couple of men on a park bench who exchanged "howdy do," then was followed by this same pair. She felt threatened, brandished without so much as a word, and they went a different direction.
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I explained my attitude toward carry. I avoid all confrontation, because in the inevitable civil lawsuit (Hmm, he hadn't considered the inevitability of the CIVIL suit, figuring only the "won't be prosecuted" side being a deterrent to the so-called wild-west outcome of permitting gun carry), whoever started it or didn't take every opportunity to de-escalate was going to lose. He wondered why that angle (risk of civil liability) wasn't part of the public debate. Heh. Because the public disarmament lobby is serious about disarming the public, and is determined in that objective, that's why.
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Anyway, his awareness of his adult daughter's experience, and becoming aware of the risk of civil liability (the suit is inevitable - you shoot someone, you will be sued), have caused him to have second thoughts about his opposition to permitting members of the public to bear arms.
4.16.2009 12:59pm
Oren:

I am comfortable that the factual record will show a very, very low ratio of defensive-shots-fired to innocent-persons-hit due either to a miss or a shoot-thru

Even accepting that fact arguendo, there's still the point that no one wants the guilt of being responsible for the death of an innocent. Pepper spraying an innocent is much easier to live with.
4.16.2009 1:00pm
martinned (mail) (www):
I was curious about the point of this post, since I can't very well imagine that anyone would take the opposite position ("No one reasonably prefers nonlethal weapons.") Rather than simply post the question here, I thought I'd do the responsible thing and check out the draft of the article first. First sentence:


Owning a stun gun is a crime in seven states — Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin—plus three counties surrounding Annapolis and Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, South Bend (Indiana), the Virgin Islands, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington (Delaware).

I have to say, I really didn't see that coming. This makes no sense at all.
4.16.2009 1:03pm
Oren:

She was jogging alone, passed a couple of men on a park bench who exchanged "howdy do," then was followed by this same pair. She felt threatened, brandished without so much as a word, and they went a different direction.

That is almost certainly criminal menacing. No reasonable person in her position could feel threatened without the would-be-perps at least getting up off the bench and making a move towards her and, even then, "howdy do" is hardly hostile.

I'm a die-hard CCW advocate, but stories like these make me want CCW holders to perhaps spend a few more hours learning the nuances of the relevant state law, for their own sake more than anything else.
4.16.2009 1:05pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Either way, I'm not going to live my life in fear.


I'm not sure why you added this sentence; it seems to imply that getting a gun correlates with living a life in fear. I'm not going to speculate about causation, but if you meant to imply the correlation you should probably explain.

This is tied to a fallacy I see a lot (I'm not sure that you're committing it), even from people I otherwise respect -- the "if we do precautionary measure, we are acting in fear, and so the terrorists will have already won!" An extreme example of this was on a recent crime drama where the hero was called to investigate an anthrax incident and didn't wear any protective gear -- the reason he gave was that "the terrorist's weapon isn't anthrax, it's fear." (Yes, but anthrax spores WERE IN THAT ROOM.)

Taking reasonable precautions is not invalid, whether or not you're afraid. Of course, taking the WRONG precautions (including excessive ones) is an error, but it's an error that one can make with or without fear.
4.16.2009 1:06pm
Oren:

Taking reasonable precautions is not invalid, whether or not you're afraid. Of course, taking the WRONG precautions (including excessive ones) is an error, but it's an error that one can make with or without fear.

William, but the claim (it's validity not at issue) is that fear is primarily responsible for making us take precautions far in excess of the objective level of threat.

So, I think that if someone believes that you are taking precautionary measures way out of line with the threat, I think he can reasonably conclude that this was caused by fearful thinking and not a rational exercise in risk management.
4.16.2009 1:12pm
Dan7:
(6) Pointing a gun at an attacker is the best way to get him to shoot me, if it turns out he also has a gun. Especially since he's less likely to hesitate than I am. So some people might reasonably feel that confronting an invader with a gun will increase the risk of injury to themselves (as opposed to just letting the invader take your stuff).
4.16.2009 1:14pm
Dan7:

There are numerous instances every year in the US where people use guns to prevent a violent attack

I'd like to see some stats on this - does anyone have a link? I'm especially interested to see a comparison of how often using a gun escalates, rather than prevents, violence.
4.16.2009 1:16pm
cboldt (mail):
-- No reasonable person in her position could feel threatened without the would-be-perps at least getting up off the bench and making a move towards her ... --
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They did get off the bench. They did follow her (exchanged "howdy do," then was followed by this same pair).
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She didn't feel threatened at the point in time of the "howdy doo" or them being on the bench. Her sense of being in a potentially threatening situation was based on them following after her with no effort to strike up or maintain a conversation, her being outnumbered, and the place she was located being generally secluded.
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Agreed that brandishing is a serious decision. My inclination is to leave the scene and let the unarmed people wait for the police if there is a need to deal with armed thugs.
4.16.2009 1:18pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Somewhere in the consideration should be that the sprays or the stun guns have to be followed up with physical action. This could be running away or direct physical contact (fighting).
4.16.2009 1:19pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Oren, it's true that fear blocks reasonable thought, and makes us take inappropriate action. This doesn't mean that "you're only saying that because you're afraid" is a valid argument. It's entirely irrelevant to the discussion. I may be saying it because I rationally evaluated the situation but forgot to consider some detail; I may be saying it because I'm mentally unstable; I may be saying it because I think it's the best available action. All those things may hold true at the same time -- and it _still_ just might actually be the best possible action.
4.16.2009 1:24pm
Carolina:
Oren:

(3b) Shooting accurately at personal defense ranges is much easier than most non-shooters think. We're not talking Olympic pistol matches here -- hitting a man-sized target at 5-7 yards can be done with minimal training.

(3c) What is snub-nose ammunition? I have never heard of such a thing.
4.16.2009 1:24pm
cboldt (mail):
-- if someone believes that you are taking precautionary measures way out of line with the threat, I think he can reasonably conclude that this was caused by fearful thinking and not a rational exercise in risk management. --
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If someone else believes that CCW (or open carry) is out of line, then it is reasonable to conclude that the carrying of a firearm is not a rational exercise.
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Pardon me for not believing your claim to be a die-hard CCW advocate (I'm not literally asking for your pardon).
4.16.2009 1:25pm
Oren:
cboldt, you original anecdote was very different from the updated version. In that updated version, her actions are much more reasonable.

I happen to believe that CCW is an excessive response, but I believe in personal freedom and that includes the right to calibrate your response based on how you perceive the threat, not how I perceive the threat. That is to say, my personal judgment that CCW is excessive does not in any way indicate a desire to limit that legal right to others.

My comment was about individual perceptions. If person A believes that precaution P is excessive with respect to risk R then he will logically conclude that person B's decision to take P with respect to R is driven by fear and not a rational exercise in risk assessment. That's practically tautological to A's original judgment that P is excessive wrt R.

Also, pardon granted sua sponte.
4.16.2009 1:32pm
Oren:
Amend my last

I happen to believe that CCW is an excessive response in many but not all circumstances ...

Just because I think something ought to be legal (and, in fact, must be legal to preserve our heritage of personal liberty) does not mean I must think it's a good idea. Or vice versa.
4.16.2009 1:33pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Pointing a gun at an attacker is the best way to get him to shoot me,


Is it? That seems unlikely to be true -- there are so many actions that seem MUCH more likely to result in being shot. Pointing a gun at an attacker seems downright UNlikely to result in getting shot, unless he's got the drop on you.
4.16.2009 1:43pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
cboldt, you original anecdote was very different from the updated version. In that updated version, her actions are much more reasonable.


Oren, which message contains the "original anecdote"? The first one I noticed had all the elements he explained, and I was rather puzzled at your response. Did I simply not read his "original anecdote"?

I happen to believe that CCW is an excessive response,


A response to what? Are you saying it's always excessive, no matter what caused the person to so decide? Or do you mean allowing CCWs is an excessive response on the part of policymakers to the second amendment? (I seriously don't know what you mean here.)

-Wm
4.16.2009 1:49pm
cboldt (mail):
-- you original anecdote was very different from the updated version. --
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Only in that it contained the details of occurring in a secluded place and absence of effort to engage in banter. The original said, "exchanged 'howdy do,' then was followed by this same pair." I could add, they were jogging too, but not wearing jogging clothing.
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-- If person A believes that precaution P is excessive with respect to risk R then he will logically conclude that person B's decision to take P with respect to R is driven by fear and not a rational exercise in risk assessment. --
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I don't equate "logically correct" with "rational." IOW, someone may UNREASONABLY, but earnestly believe that I am taking precautionary measures way out of line with the threat.
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I put my seat-belt on as a precaution, not out of fear. There are probably people who think I put my seat belt on because I am in fear - those people are mistaken.
4.16.2009 1:51pm
Steve Sund (mail):

I'd like to see some stats on this - does anyone have a link? I'm especially interested to see a comparison of how often using a gun escalates, rather than prevents, violence.



I think that would be an interesting comparison. I am not aware of any studies. Defensive gun uses are hard to track. I know that FSU Criminologist, Gary Kleck has done some research into DGU's. Here is another page.
4.16.2009 1:54pm
Guesty (mail):
I think Oren is saying that in most situations, the only benefit to CCW is peace of mind, and that is an excessive response to the threat of violent attack that most people face in their daily lives.

I am a gun owner and would carry if I felt it was necessary. But, for the most part, I have no reason to carry a gun in my daily life. I live in a relatively low crime area and spend virtually no time in the areas of town which are remotely dangerous.

I would feel immensely dorky carrying a gun in my daily life. The type of situation which might arise where I would need it is so implausible that its not worth the effort. I am far more likely to want to stop on the way home and have a beer than need a firearm.
4.16.2009 1:54pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

That seems unlikely to be true -- there are so many actions that seem MUCH more likely to result in being shot. Pointing a gun at an attacker seems downright UNlikely to result in getting shot, unless he's got the drop on you.
An acquaintance used to use two cap pistols to demonstrate the falsity of this, by having one person play the criminal, and have the pistol already out and pointed--and even knowing that his "victim" was going to at some point draw the other cap pistol from under his coat--the "criminal" could seldom pull the trigger before the "victim" had drawn and fired.

Few people can respond as quickly to a drawn gun as you might think. Even if they pull the trigger, unless you are very, very close there's still a good chance that the criminal will miss.
4.16.2009 1:57pm
cboldt (mail):
-- they were jogging too --
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Meant to convey that they had to jog to catch the fellow's adult daughter, and jogged considerable distance on account of delay between the "howdy do" pass-by and the two fellows decided to get up from being seated and proceed to follow the woman.
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At any rate, she had good cause to feel threatened, IMO. He father thought so too, and in hindsight (and only in hindsight, he admitted) he was glad she had the firearm with her.
4.16.2009 2:00pm
Scote (mail):
Well, I think the single shot nature of civilian Tazers is a big, big down side. It is the single shot muzzle loader of Tazers. If you miss you are toast and the weapon looses any real value. I don't know if their are stats on this, but a Tazer seems like a weapon you can't threaten with. Instead you have to use it, un like a real firearm. But that is WAG on my part.

Anyway, I'd like the police model to be made for civilians. Two shots. Longer range. Less lethal than fire arms. I don't know if I would use a fire arm to defend my home. There's that whole pesky potential for a murder investigation even if you were 100% in the rights. And there is the potential for risk compensation, where you are more likely to check on that noise down stairs that you really shouldn't go down and check, etc.

I'd say that contact only stun guns are not good defensive weapons. If you have to let an attacker get into grappling range you are at a big disadvantage. I have a legal contact stungun. It requires a 5 second contact with a major muscle group to be effective, or some such. That is quite the gamble to take. I realized that such a weapon was more likely to get me in trouble than save me from it. Same with irritant sprays, which could escalate a mugging into an enraged murder...but, again a WAG. Do sprays work, statistically? Or do they just cause risk compensation (putting yourself in to situations you would have avoided if you didn't have the weapon) and escalate incidents when they happen? I want stats.
4.16.2009 2:01pm
Oren:

I happen to believe that CCW is an excessive response,

A response to what? Are you saying it's always excessive, no matter what caused the person to so decide?

An excessive response to the small risk of violent crime that a person faces. Nevertheless, that's not my call to make.


I don't equate "logically correct" with "rational." IOW, someone may UNREASONABLY, but earnestly believe that I am taking precautionary measures way out of line with the threat.

My point is that if he believed the precautionary measures were in line, he wouldn't attribute the precaution to fear.


I put my seat-belt on as a precaution, not out of fear. There are probably people who think I put my seat belt on because I am in fear - those people are mistaken.

They must have concluded that the burden of putting on a seat belt is disproportionate to the risk of additional injury as a factual matter predicate to concluding that your seat belt use is motivated by fear. By what other logic could they come to that conclusion.
4.16.2009 2:04pm
cboldt (mail):
-- in most situations, the only benefit to CCW is peace of mind, and that is an excessive response to the threat of violent attack that most people face in their daily lives. --
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Police officers don't face much more risk of violent attack in their daily lives, and in their workplace, face basically no threat of violent attack (okay, that's a trick, they low risk of attack is because most everybody in the workplace is armed).
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Agreed that very few people who carry ever have a need to access their firearm. Likewise, a minute fraction of drivers ever have the misfortune of a serious accident where a seat-belt mitigates the injury.
4.16.2009 2:04pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Another reason to carry a non-lethal weapon: if you regularly interact with persons who may be a threat to you, but are mentally ill, and therefore to whom you wish to avoid causing unnecessary injury. When my brother was younger and more violent, I regularly carried tear gas for that reason.

For those who are fortunate enough to live in places with very little violent crime: yes, that's the better solution, generally. Some people don't have that option, or may not have it immediately available.
4.16.2009 2:06pm
cboldt (mail):
-- By what other logic could they come to that conclusion. --
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I'm not asserting they are illogical. I am asserting that their assumptions are unreasonable and irrational. As a result of starting with a false (but earnestly held) premise, their conclusions are incorrect.
4.16.2009 2:06pm
Dan7:


Pointing a gun at an attacker is the best way to get him to shoot me,


Is it? That seems unlikely to be true -- there are so many actions that seem MUCH more likely to result in being shot. Pointing a gun at an attacker seems downright UNlikely to result in getting shot, unless he's got the drop on you.


Well, consider the alternatives. If I'm surprising a home invader, and the invader (unbeknownst to me) has a gun, here are my options:
1. run away -> almost certainly no injury to me.
2. yell at him -> he draws gun, I shut up, and he continues robbing me (no injury to me)
3. draw my gun -> he draws too -> some nonzero chance that I get killed.

Seems to me that just about the only scenario resulting in me getting killed involves me drawing a gun. (Oh, unless you are imagining some cartoon supervillain who wants to kill me just for the fun of it, which is I guess a possibility but not a realistic one.)
4.16.2009 2:07pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Defensive gun uses are hard to track.
But easy to find. The Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog consists of nothing but news accounts of such.
4.16.2009 2:09pm
Oren:

Agreed that very few people who carry ever have a need to access their firearm. Likewise, a minute fraction of drivers ever have the misfortune of a serious accident where a seat-belt mitigates the injury.

However, carrying a gun has downsides that are not commensurate with seat-belt usage.

Legal matters, requisite training, the inability in many states to enjoy an alcoholic beverage (or even enter a bar), inability to go to courthouses/schools/gov't buildings or (in some states) any private place where the owner has not expressly permitted firearm possession. There is the risk of having the gun taken from you in a scuffle (if you are taken by surprise, perhaps you didn't have time to draw before you are hand-to-hand).

These aren't insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination, but they are real downsides.

Also, IIRC, 10k Americans are killed by violent crime versus 50k in car accidents.
4.16.2009 2:10pm
Oren:

Another reason to carry a non-lethal weapon: if you regularly interact with persons who may be a threat to you, but are mentally ill, and therefore to whom you wish to avoid causing unnecessary injury.

Absolutely correct. Even moreso, many people would not be happy to shoot a common criminal / drug addict mugger / whatever unless absolutely necessary. That is, not being victimized is the highest priority but, if at all possible, they would prefer not to kill the assailant if they can deter him by nonlethal means.
4.16.2009 2:12pm
Mikeyes (mail):
Carolina sez:
"(3b) Shooting accurately at personal defense ranges is much easier than most non-shooters think. We're not talking Olympic pistol matches here -- hitting a man-sized target at 5-7 yards can be done with minimal training."

While what Carolina says is true (that it is easy to hit a target at 5-7 yards with minimal training), doing so under duress is not so easy and minimal training will not be enough if you want to be accurate the majority of the time. Like any skill you have to practice or lose it. If minimal training is "this is the end the bullet comes out and this thing is the trigger" type of training it won't mean much if you think your life is in danger.

Under high stress circumstances you have to rely on training that makes the next set of actions automatic e.g. seek cover, get your weapon, align the weapon, quick but controlled trigger pull, re-align and assess or pull the trigger again. While there are other styles of self defense with weapons, this is one that is fairly common.

That kind of training takes time and good mentoring. Not all of us have the time to do so and that might be a reason not to want to carry a weapon - not a good one mind you, but a reason.

Carolina is also right that self defense is not Olympic style shooting. That would take far too long in the split second needed to make a decision (with the possible exception of Rapid Fire Pistol.)
4.16.2009 2:12pm
Oren:


I'm not asserting they are illogical. I am asserting that their assumptions are unreasonable and irrational. As a result of starting with a false (but earnestly held) premise, their conclusions are incorrect.

So then the debate over whether something is motivated by fear has to be conducted on the factual level of the premise -- what is the magnitude of the threat and what is the cost of the precaution.
4.16.2009 2:13pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Well, consider the alternatives. If I'm surprising a home invader, and the invader (unbeknownst to me) has a gun, here are my options:
1. run away -> almost certainly no injury to me.
2. yell at him -> he draws gun, I shut up, and he continues robbing me (no injury to me)
3. draw my gun -> he draws too -> some nonzero chance that I get killed.
The difficulty is that resistance to criminal attack with a gun is among the LOWEST risk of injury results.

Seems to me that just about the only scenario resulting in me getting killed involves me drawing a gun. (Oh, unless you are imagining some cartoon supervillain who wants to kill me just for the fun of it, which is I guess a possibility but not a realistic one.)
I hate to disappoint you, but there is about 30% of felons who are predators--who inflict suffering on their victims even with there is no clear advantage or reason. It's the reason that armed robbers sometimes shoot victims who have complied. It's the reason that most rapists do what they do, often adding unnecessary humiliation or suffering to what is already a horrendous crime.

A couple I used to know in Los Angeles were the victims of a home invasion. After the gang finished beating him, and raping her, they stole everything--and not just stuff that could be sold, but WEDDING PICTURES.

You might want to visit the real world. It's not pretty.
4.16.2009 2:15pm
CJColucci:
Most of us, I imagine, buckle our seatbelts when we drive. Accidents are rare, but it only takes one, and it's no big deal to buckle the thing, which is in the car anyway.
Few of us, I imagine, routinely wear football helmets when walking around the city to protect us from falling debris. Falling bricks are rare, but it only takes one. Still, it's inconvenient to bring a football helmet with you whereever you go and people look at you funny.
Some of us feel the need to carry concealed weapons when visiting the Big City -- even though when we go we're going to midtown or the financial district, or the Village, not East New York. In those areas, violent assaults are rare, but it only takes one. Where does that fit on the seatbelt-football helmet continuum?
4.16.2009 2:16pm
cboldt (mail):
-- So then the debate over whether something is motivated by fear has to be conducted on the factual level of the premise -- what is the magnitude of the threat and what is the cost of the precaution. --
.
Following is the same objection I'm attempting to communicate, expressed in another way. I'm not in fact motivated by fear just because some self-proclaimed know-it-all earnestly believes or asserts that I am. Two different minds are involved here, and the analyst's mind doesn't and can't create the presence of fear. The analyst can, OTOH, be imagining things.
.
You can "debate" the point all you want, and it won't create any sense of fear in my mind. Hell, I'll even publicly call you "right" and privately (and earnestly) conclude that you are delusional.
4.16.2009 2:26pm
...Max... (mail):
After the gang finished beating him, and raping her, they stole everything--and not just stuff that could be sold, but WEDDING PICTURES

Stories like this usually trigger a thought that "cruel and unusual punishment" is a relative concept, after all.
4.16.2009 2:33pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
The difficulty is that resistance to criminal attack with a gun is among the LOWEST risk of injury results.


Clayton, thanks for that detail. I'm responding here because I think I realized what I missed when I didn't believe that "Pointing a gun at an attacker is the best way to get him to shoot me."

He didn't say "...to get him to hurt me"; he specifically said "shoot me". I don't know if his statement is actually true (it seems vastly unlikely, as surely --ad absurdumb -- yelling insults and moving aggressively would be more "effective"), but I admit that even an attacker that was merely planning to torture you would probably change plans to shooting if you draw a gun and waved it around.

Thus, it seems likely that drawing a gun would be a way to increase the probability of getting shot.

I still insist that:

1. It doesn't clearly increase the overall risk of being shot, because the probability of being shot includes both the attackers who were already planning to shoot as well as the ones who weren't, and it's not clear which group is larger, the planned-shooters who change their mind because of your gun, or the planned-non-shooters who change their mind because of your gun.

2. Even if pulling a gun did increase your risk of being shot, it almost certainly decreases your risk of other harm.

-Wm
4.16.2009 2:37pm
pintler:

I think Oren is saying that in most situations, the only benefit to CCW is peace of mind, and that is an excessive response to the threat of violent attack that most people face in their daily lives.


In the US, something like 10K people are murdered each year.

Around 3K die in fires.

Is CCW necessarily less rational that smoke detectors?



While what Carolina says is true (that it is easy to hit a target at 5-7 yards with minimal training), doing so under duress is not so easy and minimal training will not be enough if you want to be accurate the majority of the time.


Two observations:
1)As the range decreases to zero, the degree of marksmanship needed also decreases to zero. Most criminals must approach very closely to complete their crime. Standing 25 yards (or 5 yards) away and shouting 'throw me your wallet or I'll shoot' just isn't a common fact pattern.
2)The usual studies show that in 90+% of firearms self defense incidents, zero shots are fired. Everyone's marksmanship is adequate in those situations.
4.16.2009 2:42pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
So then the debate over whether something is motivated by fear has to be conducted on the factual level of the premise -- what is the magnitude of the threat and what is the cost of the precaution.


Wrong, entirely wrong. The debate over whether to take the precaution has to be conducted on the "factual level of the premise". The question of whether something is motivated by fear should not EVER enter the debate.

Now, AFTER we've decided that the precaution was bad, THEN we can talk about what motivated me to propose it. Perhaps I was afraid; but perhaps I'm actually insane and in need of mental help, or perhaps I'm secretly a Nazgul. Jumping to the conclusion that I was afraid might be letting me off too lightly.
4.16.2009 2:44pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Pointing a gun at an attacker seems downright UNlikely to result in getting shot, unless he's got the drop on you.
An acquaintance used to use two cap pistols to demonstrate the falsity of this...


I admit this had me stumped. But after thought, I figured it out. This experiment requires one party to be pre-determined to shoot.

If the attacker's already decided to shoot you before the encounter, pulling a gun might indeed not stop him -- but neither will NOT pulling it stop him.

If the attacker wasn't going to shoot you, then getting the drop on him will require him to _decide_ to shoot you. That's harder and slower than simply pulling a gun out after having decided, and since you have a gun covering him already you have every chance to make the same decision.

A hardened criminal will make the decision much faster than I will, and I almost certainly won't see the signs. But here we come back to probabilities...

-Wm
4.16.2009 2:50pm
DonP (mail):
"Well, consider the alternatives. If I'm surprising a home invader, and the invader (unbeknownst to me) has a gun, here are my options:
1. run away -> almost certainly no injury to me.
2. yell at him -> he draws gun, I shut up, and he continues robbing me (no injury to me)
3. draw my gun -> he draws too -> some nonzero chance that I get killed. "

I have six women here in Illinois in a Lane Bryant store that beg to differ with your cool, calm logic.

They couldn't run away from a robbery anymore than you would be able to in the real world. At least not without getting shot in the back.

They shut up, offered no resistance and followed the criminal to the back room where I'm sure he promised not to hurt them if they followed his instructions

He emptied the cash register, took anything of value they had, then shot all six in the back of the head at point blank range. Five died instantly, one was hit in the throat and somehow survived by the grace of God.

They followed your logic and recommendations to the letter here in "gun free Illinois".

Maybe you could share with us what they did wrong to wind up dead?

You may choose to trust your life to the whims of a criminal's mood but others of us, maybe not.
4.16.2009 3:08pm
greginsocal (mail):
I am having trouble with the "criminal menacing" issue. Recently, you had a discussion regarding open carry. Open carry I feel is reasonable, as it lets the potential criminal know you are armed, and he likely will look elsewhere for an easier target. By carrying concealed, this information is hidden from the criminal. In order to "advise" him that you are not going to be a patsy, you let him see the weapon. He moves on. Why, then, is it a crime to take out a weapon that is being carried specifically for self-defense? This seems entirely ludicrous to me. I can only assume that lawmakers are, indeed, idiots.
4.16.2009 3:08pm
Oren:

Is CCW necessarily less rational that smoke detectors?

Again, a CCW is much more costly than a smoke detector, requires upkeep and restricts my actions.


Wrong, entirely wrong. The debate over whether to take the precaution has to be conducted on the "factual level of the premise". The question of whether something is motivated by fear should not EVER enter the debate. Now, AFTER we've decided that the precaution was bad, THEN we can talk about what motivated me to propose it.

I'm not sure this is different from what I said ...
4.16.2009 3:10pm
greginsocal (mail):
BTW, Oren, "snubnose" refers to a type of revolver with a very short barrel. I think you meant to refer to "hollow point" ammunition, which has a lower penetration potential than hardball. It mushrooms out on impact, thus transferring more energy to the object hit, rather than continue to travel.
4.16.2009 3:15pm
greginsocal (mail):
Not sure how a CCW "restricts" your actions. It seems it would give you more options, actually. Smoke detectors require upkeep, as well...
4.16.2009 3:18pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
greg.
Of course.
Or they have a nefarious plan which includes getting citizens caught in logic-conflicting situations.
Your choice.
4.16.2009 3:18pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
<blockquote>I'm not sure this is different from what I said ...</blockquote>

If that's what you meant, I apologize; I would prefer to respond to what you mean. What I reacted to was what you actually said, which started with "So then the debate over whether something is motivated by fear has to be conducted..."

It's my entire point that there should be <em>no</em> debate over whether a given precaution is motivated by fear or not. Your paragraph appeared to <i>require</i> such a debate, even prior to discussing the costs and benefits of the precaution.

But I understand that it's not what you meant, no problem.
4.16.2009 3:21pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Where does that fit on the seatbelt-football helmet continuum?


Great question. Let's add another data point: external carry. I'd say that sits higher than football helmets, probably because it immediately marks you socially. (Wearing a football helmet might possibly be done for some reason other than falling bricks -- perhaps you're a fan of that team.) If that's what's being measured, I suspect CCW sits closer to seatbelts than football helmets; obviously, social reactions to discovering that you're carrying will be much more extreme, which is why CCW laws are fairly strict.
4.16.2009 3:25pm
Houston Lawyer:
As far as fear being a motivator for carrying a weapon, I find that many crime victims go through life blissfully unaware of the danger around them until such time as they are mugged or killed. Others seem to be more afraid of guns than they are of those with criminal intent.
4.16.2009 3:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Legal matters, requisite training, the inability in many states to enjoy an alcoholic beverage (or even enter a bar), inability to go to courthouses/schools/gov't buildings or (in some states) any private place where the owner has not expressly permitted firearm possession. There is the risk of having the gun taken from you in a scuffle (if you are taken by surprise, perhaps you didn't have time to draw before you are hand-to-hand).
Not being able to drink is right up there for me (and a lot of other Americans) with not being able to ski naked.

As for the risk of having a gun taken from you in a scuffle: can you give some examples that don't involve police? I'm sure that it has happened, somewhere, some time. Gun control advocates used to make the claim that if a woman tries to use a gun in self-defense, the chances are high that it will be taken from her and used against her. (Because gun control advocates know that women just don't have the strength of character to defend themselves.) But where are the examples?

Oddly enough, criminals losing control of their gun and having it used against them is surprisingly common, enough so that on the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog, we created a label just for that situation. Of course, criminals have the disadvantage of being not spectacularly bright, and this is often greatly enhanced by being intoxicated.
4.16.2009 3:43pm
pintler:

Again, a CCW is much more costly than a smoke detector, requires upkeep and restricts my actions.


$32 for 5 years, $6.40 per year. I dunno. Our house has 5 smoke alarms that cost $10 each and last 10 years, so that's $5 per year, plus new batteries. Looks pretty close to me.

I'm not sure what upkeep means - if you mean practice, a)that's fun anyway, and b)my practice these days is mostly shooting PPC matches (see 'a').

It does restrict my actions, e.g. I have to plan ahead if my errands involve walking to the post office, but there's hope that that kind of thing will improve as time goes by. But overall, my experience is that it's roughly as much trouble as carrying my wallet, i.e. almost none.


By carrying concealed, this information is hidden from the criminal. In order to "advise" him that you are not going to be a patsy, you let him see the weapon. He moves on. Why, then, is it a crime to take out a weapon that is being carried specifically for self-defense?


My understanding is that brandishing laws are designed to prevent e.g. the customer who is angry about not being able to return the merchandise w/o a receipt who makes a point of having his jacket open to reveal a gun, or someone who displays a gun because he doesn't like your driving, etc. I think you need laws like that, with of course a 'reasonable in light of the circumstances' provision.
4.16.2009 3:53pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Again, a CCW is much more costly than a smoke detector, requires upkeep and restricts my actions.
1. Certainly more costly, but depending on the state, not dramatically more expensive.

2. You know, once you have a permit, you aren't required to carry the gun all the time. If you want to go have a couple of beers, you leave the gun at home, or lock it in your car. (Not in Massachusetts, however.)
4.16.2009 3:57pm
Bruce McCullough (mail):
Eugene,


"Stun guns also appear to be materially more effective than irritant sprays."

You need to watch more epsiodes of "COPS". Frequently a person will be tased multiple times before being subdued.

Bruce
4.16.2009 3:57pm
JohnK (mail):
There is another reason for having non-lethal weapons. Not all self defense laws are created equal. Some states have the castle doctrine or even the so called make my day laws. Other states have a duty to retreat. When you shoot someone in a state that has restrictive self defense laws, you could be looked at major legal troubles. If you taser someone, whatever your legal headaches they won't involve murder. Even in very liberal states, it seems very unlikly that you would be prosecuted for using pepper spray or a taser in self defense.
4.16.2009 4:08pm
Kirk:
Tim,
If my time comes because I'm the victim of gun violence, maybe a gun would have changed things. [emphasis added]
Just like to point out that the highlighted word in your statement is gratuitous: having a handgun is good protection against almost any kind of violence offered you.

Oren,
No reasonable person in her position could feel threatened without the would-be-perps at least getting up off the bench and making a move towards her
Well, it's right there in the part you cited: "then was followed by this same pair." Without knowing a bit more about the circumstances (how closely, persistently, etc) I'm not willing to hazard an opinion as to whether her action was justifiable or not.
I put my seat-belt on as a precaution, not out of fear
I carry my handgun for exactly the same reason. It's not that I fear where I'm going--if I knew I was going to be assaulted in a particular place, I simply wouldn't go there! (Yes, I am neither military nor law enforcement.) But while there are variations in crime rates, sometimes large ones, there are literally no crime-free zones.
4.16.2009 4:10pm
Oren:

Not sure how a CCW "restricts" your actions. It seems it would give you more options, actually. Smoke detectors require upkeep, as well...

Part of this might be MA liberal gun control nonsense (stuff I would vote against, if I were in the leg.) -- can't get near a school, can't go in a bar, can't leave the gun in the car if you step into a private business that forbids them, can't park in a public parking lot (they are part of the "government buildings" exception to the LTC) ....

Moreover, there are substantial "startup" costs to being trained sufficiently with a firearm to use one in self-defense. I think the minimum is a 12-hour course and, having personally taken that one, I still don't feel sufficiently trained to carry a firearm for self-defense.
4.16.2009 4:14pm
Oren:
Bruce, COPS might have a selection bias towards the unusual ...
4.16.2009 4:15pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
(3b) Some people don't trust their aim enough not to kill innocent bystanders. Quite a bit of training is required to accurately use a handgun in self-defense.
It doesn't take much training to hit a man-size target at 3 to 7 yards.

(3c) Some people fear killing someone behind their target (snub nose ammo helps here) in a crowded situation.
I think you mean "hollowpoint" or "softpoint" ammo. "Snubnose" is a short-barreled revolver.

(6) Some people fear defending their shooting in court where nonlethal defense will be much more palatable to the jury.
First you have to survive to get to the jury.

I haven't heard people expressing these fears. I have heard the arguments Volokh cites.
I've read most suicide attempts are unsuccessful. Suicide attempts using guns are generally more successful.
The comparisons aren't always valid. Back when I worked a hotline I preferred gun suicide calls. Those using pills often took them first, then called. The result (before caller ID) was the necessity to get a location while the caller could provide it. With gun suicides, no one ever thought they could shoot themselves, then call.

The suicide studies I've seen only count as "attempts" situations where the person inflicts the injury. But a lot of potential suicides inflict non-lethal injury, then count on being rescued. They don't tend to use firearms.
If my time comes because I'm the victim of gun violence, maybe a gun would have changed things. Maybe not. Either way, I'm not going to live my life in fear.
I regularly carry, and I teach concealed carry, so obviously I disagree on guns. OTOH, I also wear seat belts whenever I'm in a moving vehicle, even though I don't think I'll be in an accident. Do you? Is that "living your life in fear?"
That is almost certainly criminal menacing. No reasonable person in her position could feel threatened without the would-be-perps at least getting up off the bench and making a move towards her and, even then, "howdy do" is hardly hostile.
What part of "then was followed by this same pair" did you not understand?
Pointing a gun at an attacker is the best way to get him to shoot me, if it turns out he also has a gun.
Most criminals don't carry guns. Most that do are lousy shots. The most common reaction of criminals to a self-defense handgun is hasty retreat.
So some people might reasonably feel that confronting an invader with a gun will increase the risk of injury to themselves (as opposed to just letting the invader take your stuff).
Somewhat true when dealing with robbery. Doesn't work at all with assault, rape, or murder. "If he wants to kill you let him kill you. Otherwise someone might get hurt."
Oren, it's true that fear blocks reasonable thought, and makes us take inappropriate action.
Not quite. Fear causes us to react rather than respond. The way you act in practice is the way you react in crisis. People with minimal first aid/CPR training tend to use it appropriately when someone is injured.
I happen to believe that CCW is an excessive response in many but not all circumstances
By "CCW" are you referring to carrying, or actual use of force with your handgun? If the latter, I agree. If the former, pray tell how you would pick the day you will run into enough trouble that you needed to carry? In twelve years I've had three situations where I was glad I carried. All three were totally unpredictable and two were in places most people would have considered absolutely safe.
I am a gun owner and would carry if I felt it was necessary. But, for the most part, I have no reason to carry a gun in my daily life. I live in a relatively low crime area and spend virtually no time in the areas of town which are remotely dangerous.
Like your church? Or a mall? Or where you work? It's your choice, though.
Even moreso, many people would not be happy to shoot a common criminal / drug addict mugger / whatever unless absolutely necessary. That is, not being victimized is the highest priority but, if at all possible, they would prefer not to kill the assailant if they can deter him by nonlethal means.
True. Absolutely valid. I agree. If they can deter him by nonlethal means. Not carrying means that if you can't deter him by nonlethal means you have no further choice. I want that choice.
Why, then, is it a crime to take out a weapon that is being carried specifically for self-defense?
Depends on the state. In Texas intentionally revealing that you are carrying is an offense, failure to conceal. However that doesn't apply in a situation where use of force is justified. So showing your gun to deter a threatened attack is legal; showing it to win an argument is not.
Others seem to be more afraid of guns than they are of those with criminal intent.
And quite a few are more afraid of legal gun owners than they are of felons.
4.16.2009 4:19pm
Kharn (mail):
It is important to note that Massachusetts does not permit the possession of defense sprays unless you have a valid Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC), in addition to the ban on stun guns. LTCs are hard to acquire in the urban areas of the state and both require a safety class and background check.
4.16.2009 4:29pm
Harry O (mail):
"A few people might be able to learn unarmed self-defense techniques. But many people can't, because they are physically disabled or otherwise not strong enough. Many others might lack the time needed to train themselves in such techniques, especially if they have work or family obligations."

I spent a lot of years taking my sons to Judo class (which is more defensive then offensive -- Karate is the opposite). And, I attended more tournaments than I want to think about.

I noticed that in the lower "belts" (white, yellow, etc), that each higher belt compensated for about 10lbs. In other words, a white belt was usually evenly matched with a yellow belt that was 10lbs lighter. With the same color belt, the one 10lbs heavier usually won. Although this was not as clear cut at the higher belts, it showed that there is a limit.

No matter how skilled a black belt is, a reasonably fit, but unskilled person outweighing them by 100 or so lbs will probably win. If you think that will not happen ask what a 100 to 110lb female black belt can do against a 180 to 210lb man.

Unarmed self defense is extremely limited in its use, particularly by those who need it the most.
4.16.2009 4:30pm
Guesty (mail):
Larry,

I am a gun owner and would carry if I felt it was necessary. But, for the most part, I have no reason to carry a gun in my daily life. I live in a relatively low crime area and spend virtually no time in the areas of town which are remotely dangerous.

Like your church? Or a mall? Or where you work? It's your choice, though.


It is my choice. And I have reasonably decided that that chances of me actually being in any of those places during the time that a shooting occurs is practically nonexistant.

I don't think concealed carry should be illegal nor that it is particularly dangerous. Rather, I think it is entirely unnecessary. The chances of actually being in the particular store, church, or workplace at the time a shooting occurs is trivial; the chance that you are in a position to do something about it is even smaller.

The world just isn't quite as dangerous as a lot of you seem to think, or at least the parts of it that I frequent.
4.16.2009 4:33pm
DennisN (mail):
@ Steve Sund:

I think that would be an interesting comparison. I am not aware of any studies. Defensive gun uses are hard to track.


Particularly since the vast majority, like the incidents with Gun Owner and the stranger in the airport, are never reported. It's just too dangerous and ineffective to get the police involved in something like that.

@cboldt

Police officers don't face much more risk of violent attack in their daily lives, and in their workplace, face basically no threat of violent attack


I was joking with a cop recently, and suggested that "The most dangerous thing you can do is to drive to the gunfight."

He agreed.

@William D. Tanksley, Jr:

I admit that even an attacker that was merely planning to torture you would probably change plans to shooting if you draw a gun and waved it around.


It is axiomatic among firearms defense advocates that you never brandish a firearm. If you draw, you are prepared to shoot immediately. You still have plenty of time to change your mind, but if you don't have an intention to fire, you keep the thing in the holster.

Brandishing is a good way to have your gun taken away.

For all that, the majority of firearm self defenses involve no discharge.
4.16.2009 4:50pm
pintler:

Moreover, there are substantial "startup" costs to being trained sufficiently with a firearm to use one in self-defense. I think the minimum is a 12-hour course and, having personally taken that one, I still don't feel sufficiently trained to carry a firearm for self-defense.


I'm not disagreeing with your choice at all Oren, but I think many people seem to overestimate the degree of expertise required. You certainly need to know enough to load/unload/carry without accidents (but of course, many people acquire that knowledge for recreational, etc, reasons). You need to practice enough to know your limitations, so you don't exceed them, but you don't need to be trained up to air marshal standards. Even the small fraction of defensive gun uses that actually result in shots fired are likely to be at very close range, and with very few bystanders around. In fact, I think many people focus too much on marksmanship and not enough on decision making.

Our police academy devotes approximately 86 hours to firearms training, and that assumes no prior experience, and dealing with situations that are considerably more difficult than close range self defense. US Army basic training is similar, I think (any veterans know the actual amount of time spent at the range?).

A couple of days of training isn't going to turn you into Annie Oakley, any more than a couple of days of first aid is going to make you a doctor but, as with first aid, a couple of days training puts you way ahead of nothing.
4.16.2009 5:00pm
Oren:

It is important to note that Massachusetts does not permit the possession of defense sprays unless you have a valid Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC), in addition to the ban on stun guns. LTCs are hard to acquire in the urban areas of the state and both require a safety class and background check.

The pepper-spray LTC is actually quite easy to get since it does not entitled you to carry or posses a firearm. To my knowledge, no police dept has ever denied one of those lesser licenses to a qualified individual.

Pintler, I should have made clear that the major hurdle for me is confidence in my situational awareness rather than technical proficiency. I'm a damned good shot, but I don't think I have what it take to carry concealed day-to-day because I don't pay very good attention.
4.16.2009 5:14pm
Kirk:
Harry O,

Your general point is valid, but it's going a bit too far to say "unarmed self defense is extremely limited in its use"--the real problem is that lots of stuff that's called Martial Arts is really Martial Sports, with all that implies.
4.16.2009 5:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Moreover, there are substantial "startup" costs to being trained sufficiently with a firearm to use one in self-defense. I think the minimum is a 12-hour course and, having personally taken that one, I still don't feel sufficiently trained to carry a firearm for self-defense.
It depends on where you live. While I have benefited greatly from the training that I have received, I point to places like Washington State that no training requirement at all--and do not seem any the worse off because of it. The requirement for many states is quite a bit less than 12 hours--light enough that it is barely a training requirement.

In practice, aside from the questions related to legal use of deadly force (where a lowest common denominator is: "Is this person threatening me with death or great bodily injury?"), there is little involved in carrying a gun that isn't a matter of practice and common sense. Of course, alcohol pretty well removes common sense for many people (and not just with guns).

The major area where permitholders get into trouble isn't inappropriate use of a gun--it's wandering into places that concealed carry isn't allowed, and not realizing it.
4.16.2009 5:27pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Rather, I think it is entirely unnecessary. The chances of actually being in the particular store, church, or workplace at the time a shooting occurs is trivial; the chance that you are in a position to do something about it is even smaller.
The chances are small; the consequences if you are in one of those rare circumstances are enormous. Of course, there are lots and lots of examples of people being in those situations and successfully using a gun to stop a tragedy.

If it cost me $10,000 to have a concealed carry permit (which is about what I would have spent on "campaign contributions" or legal fees in California), it wouldn't make much sense. But the cost is low; the training worthwhile; and I've already got a handgun.
4.16.2009 5:31pm
DennisN (mail):
@pintler


I think many people seem to overestimate the degree of expertise required.


Target shooting skills are nice to have, and enable you to engage at longer ranges. The better shot you are, the more distance is your friend. But for the typical encounter, different techniques are better, some not even involving aiming as we usually discuss it.

For close range work, you can learn the techniques in a small number of hours.
4.16.2009 5:36pm
greginsocal (mail):
pintler: I see your point, sort of. The examples you gave I think would be exceedingly rare, given the extraordinary paecableness of the concealed carry population thus far. Anyone who threatens a clerk over a refund isn't going to be stopped by a brandishing law, I don't think. Anyway, under the circumstances given in the anecdote, wouldn't her situation clearly be reasonable (woman alone, two men, etc.)?

Oren: It appears that MA is much tougher to live in as a CCW person than was my experience in Idaho. My wife and I both had CCW's, but typically only carried when travelling or camping, etc. Response times in rural Idaho (which is almost all of it) are often measured in hours. Assuming your cell phone works at all. In any case, I don't recall having ever given a second thought as to where I was going while carrying. I even went into the county courthouse once, with my .357 in my backpack. Set off all sorts of alarms. I just showed them my CCW permit, and took the piece back to my car. No real drama.
4.16.2009 5:38pm
Oren:
GIS, yup, Idaho is much more friendly indeed. In MA, you pull that courthouse stunt and you'll be lucky to just give up your CCW permit.

Clayton, the nuances of when you must retreat and when you may stand your ground are somewhat relevant. MA, for instance, is a duty-to-retreat state EXCEPT in your home or business (castle doctrine).
4.16.2009 5:42pm
CJColucci:
The chances are small; the consequences if you are in one of those rare circumstances are enormous.

So do you: (a) buckle your seatbelt and (b) routinely wear a helmet to protect yourself against falling debris? If the answers differ, why?
4.16.2009 5:45pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Clayton, the nuances of when you must retreat and when you may stand your ground are somewhat relevant. MA, for instance, is a duty-to-retreat state EXCEPT in your home or business (castle doctrine).
Understood. But you learn in just about any class (even the very minimal ones) that regardless of whether you are required to retreat, do so. The cost of fighting the inevitable lawsuit on a completely righteous suit is going to be $15,000 or more. You draw a gun when you have no realistic alternative.
4.16.2009 5:45pm
Oren:
Good point.

At any rate, the point of the thread was preference for non-lethal weapons, and the reduced training required is a big selling point because I imagine that many folks, like myself, would require considerable legal, situational and hands-on training (well, I got the last one covered) before they felt confident enough to carry.
4.16.2009 5:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
There's one more argument for less lethal weapons: you have a kid going off to college, and you aren't quite sure that it would be wise for them (or their roommates) to have a gun (even if they are living off campus). There's a lot of growing up that happens between 18 and 22. Some kids are ready for that responsibility at 18. Some aren't. But you don't want them completely defenseless, either.
4.16.2009 6:06pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
So do you: (a) buckle your seatbelt and (b) routinely wear a helmet to protect yourself against falling debris? If the answers differ, why?


The answers differ because those are on opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. Should they be considered the same?

-Wm
4.16.2009 6:21pm
pintler:

Anyway, under the circumstances given in the anecdote, wouldn't her situation clearly be reasonable (woman alone, two men, etc.)?


Quite probably. How far did they follow her, is there an innocent explanation for their behavior, like they were just following the same path, vs. turning and following as she changed course, did she tell them to stay away and they continued to close, yadda, yadda. Nothing in the facts reported gives me any reason to think the lady acted inappropriately, but I can play devils advocate and construct a hypothetical that fits the sparse facts reported that would raise concern: 'Bob and Dave were out jogging for the first time after Dave's bypass surgery, and Dave had felt a little woozy, so they sat down to rest for a bit. At about the time Dave felt better, a young lady jogged by, and after exchanging pleasantries, Bob and Dave continued their jog in along the same path, when suddenly the woman ...'. The totality of the circumstances can't be conveyed in a couple of sentences. If a reasonable person in the lady's shoes would have felt there was an imminent danger of grave harm, her actions were appropriate. If not, then then they weren't.

In my training, which may be conservative, and is certainly state specific, if someone who is a reasonably similar match to you in size/strength etc announces he is going to punch your lights out because he doesn't like redheads, and comes towards you empty handed to put his plan in effect, that is not a deadly force situation in general, the not uncommon examples of one punch fatal fights notwithstanding.

There is a trade off between physical risk and legal risk - accepting more of one means less exposure to the other.
4.16.2009 6:57pm
Oren:

The totality of the circumstances can't be conveyed in a couple of sentences. If a reasonable person in the lady's shoes would have felt there was an imminent danger of grave harm, her actions were appropriate. If not, then then they weren't.

The reasonable person standard usually requires some objective indica of danger.
4.16.2009 7:23pm
Kirk:
pintler,

What benighted place do you live in?

Here in WA, the law (RCW 9A.15.050, to be specific) very plainly states:
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either: (1) In the lawful defense of the slayer ... or of any other person in his presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished...

I cannot comment on case law in this regard, but the legislation itself seems to pretty clearly exclude the kinds of considerations you are talking about.
4.16.2009 8:45pm
Kirk:
Oren, "reduced training" might indeed be a selling point, but don't forget it's accompanied by "reduced effectiveness". I'd be willing to bet a fairly small sum (blame the bad economy for that!) that any reasonable measure of the training vs effectiveness ratio is going to favor the handgun.
4.16.2009 8:45pm
pintler:
@Kirk:

1)In WA
2)IANAL
3)That's what my instructors said.
4)I'll bet there is case law. A plain english reading of the section you posted would seem to allow shooting someone in the act of a non violent felony: "commit a felony OR ...". I don't believe I would rely on that.
5)Like I said, there are competing risks.
4.16.2009 9:17pm
Kirk:
pintler,

I think the introductory "in the lawful defense of the slayer" makes it clear that non-violent felonies would not trigger such protections.
4.16.2009 10:02pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
pintler
Time on the range:
In basic. A lot. It goes up and down as things change. Basic, you understand, is for everybody including clerks, truckdrivers and cooks. After they finish basic, they will probably fire once a year or whatever it takes to keep up the required qualification.
How much, more or less, they fire in basic depends on what's happening.
I had senior NCOs and field grade officers recount their experiences in Korea with clerks and cooks about to be overrun absolutely unable to load a Garand. That was not happening on their watch when I was in, so basic trainees got a lot of shooting.
Whatever happened since then, there have been several reports that basic has ramped up its firearms training based on who all gets to shoot in Iraq. Also devised two more awards, Close Combat Badge and, I think, Close Combat Medal To tell the folks you've been in combat even though you're an MP securing a convoy. Or a truckdriver.
However, then we get to the combat arms advanced training.
Lots and lots of shooting, mostly marksmanship.
The CCW and cop training of when to shoot and when not to is limited, since the situation is mostly black and white. Until Iraq when situational training and ROEs get more time.
Short answer. Lots of time on the range for trigger pullers. Not so much for the rest, depending. Not much about when and when not.
4.16.2009 10:39pm
pintler:

I think the introductory "in the lawful defense of the slayer" makes it clear that non-violent felonies would not trigger such protections.


Well, all I know about the law is that what seems like unambiguous text to a layman may not be. For example, the next section reads:

(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he is.

So we have 'attempt to commit a felony...or upon...a dwelling...in which he is.'. Googling for 'felony tagging' gets a lot of hits, as odd as that seems. But I suspect lethal force to prevent tagging isn't going to fly, except perhaps after dark in TX. Am I reading it wrong? Was the homicide statue written thinking arson, and our distinguished solons upgraded tagging to a felony without thinking things through? I dunno.

My point is not that I think that shooting taggers is justifiable homicide (although perhaps praiseworthy). Rather, I merely suggest that laymen assuming their plain text reading of the law is accurate can be a fairly risky thing to do.
I have grave doubts that 'Well, no, I didn't think he was going to kill me, just punch me, but I don't have to put up with that, so I shot him' will fly, even if his assault is a felony. But you should ask your lawyer, not me, because IANAL.

As I believe Mr. Cramer alluded earlier, the easy test to remember is 'will I die if I don't use lethal force?'. If the answer is yes, then deal with the legal aftermath later. If the answer is 'no', keep trying something else.
4.16.2009 10:49pm
DennisN (mail):

As I believe Mr. Cramer alluded earlier, the easy test to remember is 'will I die if I don't use lethal force?'. If the answer is yes, then deal with the legal aftermath later. If the answer is 'no', keep trying something else.


That's pretty good general advice.
4.16.2009 11:00pm
cboldt (mail):
-- the easy test to remember is 'will I die if I don't use lethal force?'. If the answer is yes, then deal with the legal aftermath later. --
.
Justification is a little more broad than that, basically permitting use of deadly force to stop a determined rapist (chivalry is not dead) and to avert "serious/grave personal injury" which is in the order of being maimed, blinded, or permanently brain damaged.
.
The "will I die" test is a good one, because most people at risk of being maimed are simultaneously at risk of being killed. Rape is "odd man out" in that regard. I would shoot the would-be rapist (of wife or daughter, not of a stranger) without hesitation; but that's my personal decision. For women, the "rapist" is their personal threat, and a woman can ask "will I be raped if I don't use lethal force?"
4.16.2009 11:49pm
Kirk:
pintler,
I have grave doubts that 'Well, no, I didn't think he was going to kill me, just punch me, but I don't have to put up with that'
Sorry if I gave you the impression that was what I was saying. Nope, if you didn't think it was a serious threat, you had no business shooting, and there probably isn't a prosecutor in WA state who would fail to bring charges in such a case.

Instead, I'm disagreeing with the notion that "he's attacking you with his bare hands, so you can't resist with anything more than that"--iow since he's not using a gun or a knife, he gets a free swing or two which you're not allowed to use lethal force in repelling, and if he manages to kill you with that, too bad for you. As cboldt points out immediately above, "most people at risk of being maimed are simultaneously at risk of being killed."

As just one real-life example, the Seattle Westlake shooting in Oct 2006 (see here, here, and here) involved a completely unarmed assailant. The shooter was arrested and questioned briefly (along with witnesses) and quickly released when it became clear that the shooting was in self-defense. Quoting from the third article linked above:
In the past year or so, King County prosecutors have declined to file homicide charges in three cases in which self-defense was claimed, spokesman Dan Donohoe said.

He explained that from a legal standpoint, prosecutors must disprove a claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt for a jury to convict someone in such a case.


So I'd say your instructor definitely made the law sound more restrictive than it actually is.
4.17.2009 12:34am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The "will I die" test is a good one, because most people at risk of being maimed are simultaneously at risk of being killed. Rape is "odd man out" in that regard.
AIDS. That's even worse than an immediate death.

California law has bounced back and forth a bit on whether rape is "great bodily injury" or not, largely because of a raving liberal named Rose Bird, who was Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. At one point, she argued that a woman who had been raped, sodomized, burned with cigarettes, and a four inch knife stuck into her abdomen had not suffered "great bodily injury" because Bird was so intent on avoiding a death penalty for the fine young man involved.

The statute in California (and many other states) actually allows use of deadly force against a fleeing felon, but case law has narrowed this quite substantially. (Police are subject to the even more restrictive Tennessee v. Garner decision.)
4.17.2009 10:50am
Kirk:
Clayton (or anyone else),

Am I correct in suspecting that the vast multiplication of felonies beyond necessity plays a large role in that narrowing?
4.17.2009 11:07am
pintler:

So I'd say your instructor definitely made the law sound more restrictive than it actually is.


I'm in way over my head on a blog of law professors, so with the disclaimer that this is just my layman's impression: it doesn't seem to me that the law, especially when making decisions about justifiable force, always makes decisions with several decimal places of accuracy. There is an area where force is clearly OK, an area where it clearly isn't, and a big fuzzy gray area in the middle. In that gray area, your results - winning or losing the legal proceedings - are going to depend on the jury that chance sends you, the skill of your lawyer vs. the opposing atty, recent headlines, how photogenic and poised a witness you are, how sympathetic your assailant can be made to appear, etc. Most of those factors are unknown at the time you are making decisions. You get to decide how to play off the risk of not surviving the incident vs. legal problems later. Different people will prioritize those risks differently.

People seem to want, or feel that there are, bright line demarcations here. I don't think that is true, and so advise using force very, very reluctantly. For example, I don't support 'duty to retreat' laws, but I surely do advocate retreat if you can do so safely. I am perhaps, by nature, more inclined to accept physical risk now to minimize legal risk later. It works for me. You get to decide for yourself.
I'm not judging your preferences - but it's good to remember that other people will end up judging them.
4.17.2009 11:18am
LarryA (mail) (www):
The chances of actually being in the particular store, church, or workplace at the time a shooting occurs is trivial;
On any particular day, correct. Over a lifetime? Say 22,000 days?
the chance that you are in a position to do something about it is even smaller.
But if 1% of the population carried, the chances that someone would be in the right place at the right time are significant, as in all three of the cases I cited.

I honestly hope your optimism is never tested. If it is, I hope there's someone there who disagrees with you.
Justification is a little more broad than that, basically permitting use of deadly force to stop a determined rapist (chivalry is not dead)
Never mind chivalry. Considering AIDS sexual assault is deadly force.
the easy test to remember is 'will I die if I don't use lethal force?'. If the answer is yes, then deal with the legal aftermath later. If the answer is 'no', keep trying something else.
Just a little too narrow. There are three "tests" I teach for "Is he about to use deadly force?" First, obviously, is he about to kill you? Second, is he about to severely injure you, as by breaking a bone, destroying your sight or hearing, or subjecting you to great hazard? (As in the aforementioned case of rape, or setting a fire that endangers you, etc.) Third, is he trying to render you helpless in a way that will allow him to kill you? (As in a kidnapper trying to force you into a car, or a convenience store robber trying to get everyone into the office to be tied up.) Any of these justify deadly force in response. Such deadly force should be used, absent some reasonably likely to be successful alternative.
I'm in way over my head on a blog of law professors, so with the disclaimer that this is just my layman's impression: it doesn't seem to me that the law, especially when making decisions about justifiable force, always makes decisions with several decimal places of accuracy.
IANAL either, but I do teach the Texas CHL class. You've hit the nail on the head. Huge gray area.
In that gray area, your results - winning or losing the legal proceedings - are going to depend on the jury that chance sends you, the skill of your lawyer vs. the opposing atty, recent headlines, how photogenic and poised a witness you are, how sympathetic your assailant can be made to appear, etc.
Location, location, location. Even in Texas a prosecutor and a jury in Austin or Houston will react completely differently to those in San Antonio. Or particularly those in a small town like Kerrville.
People seem to want, or feel that there are, bright line demarcations here. I don't think that is true, and so advise using force very, very reluctantly.
I run into exactly the same reaction from, and make the same response to my students.
4.17.2009 12:13pm
CJColucci:
So do you: (a) buckle your seatbelt and (b) routinely wear a helmet to protect yourself against falling debris? If the answers differ, why?


The answers differ because those are on opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. Should they be considered the same?

-Wm


I'm not sure we disagree, but the point seems not to have gotten across. That may be my fault, so I'll try again.
In both the seatbelt case and the helmet case, the chances of getting into some kind of scrape where the seatbelt or helmet might help are very slim, but the consequences if the extremely unlikely event happens are extreme. Yet buckling one's seatbelt is widely seen as a sensible precaution and constantly wearing a helmet to protect against falling debris would be widely seen as loony.
In the case of carrying firearms for personal protection, it is also true that the chances of getting into a scrape where the firearm might help are very slim, but the consequences if the extremely unlikely event happens are extreme. The same logic. And it's just as valid as in the seatblet and the helmet case.
The question, therefore, is whether routinely carrying firearms is more like buckling your seatbelt or more like wearing a helmet on city streets -- and why.
4.17.2009 12:21pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Yet buckling one's seatbelt is widely seen as a sensible precaution and constantly wearing a helmet to protect against falling debris would be widely seen as loony... The question, therefore, is whether routinely carrying firearms is more like buckling your seatbelt or more like wearing a helmet on city streets -- and why.


Thank you for the detailed explanation of why you asked that question.

I don't believe I can speak for how wearing seatbelts came to be accepted; it's a social process, helped by extensive propaganda (in the neutral sense of the word). The same process has caused bike helmets to become accepted. It's harder to believe that walking helmets would become equally accepted, perhaps because the hazards one encounters while walking are not part of the walking per se; but the reason it's not accepted is purely social, not intrinsic (note that walking helmets are as mandatory as seatbelts in some circles -- i.e. on construction sites).

Openly carrying a gun (like openly wearing a helmet) would instantly mark you as different; unlike wearing a helmet, you'd also instantly appear dangerous (because that is the message a gun conveys). The combination is socially deadly.

Now, secretly carrying a gun is socially different from an open action (like openly carrying a gun or openly wearing a helmet). Society and law accepts it for a number of reasons, so long as the secrecy is truly kept. "We" the society apparently want to know that there are people with guns, we don't want EVERYONE to pack one, and we don't want the people who don't have one to appear as available targets to anyone who happens to be packing -- thus we require CCW licenses and fairly strict secrecy. There's no social approval available for carrying a gun (in fact, disclosing that you're carrying is a HUGE error); but there's social approval, in a diffuse sense, for being able to carry a gun secretly.

You're right that seatbelts, walking helmets, and CCW guns for the broad populace all protect those individuals against very unlikely threat models... But the social purpose of those laws isn't as much to protect the individuals as it is to protect the society.
4.17.2009 12:44pm
Kirk:
pintler,
I'm not judging your preferences
Nor I yours. If you want a bright line somewhere, I'll draw one for you regarding this kind of discussion: I would be extremely reluctant to say to anyone "this is what you should do"--that's their decision to make--but very happy (some would say too happy, heh) to discuss the reasoning behind it based on their own statements as to why they chose what they did. I hope that difference does come across here.
4.17.2009 1:15pm
Oren:

Oren, "reduced training" might indeed be a selling point, but don't forget it's accompanied by "reduced effectiveness". I'd be willing to bet a fairly small sum (blame the bad economy for that!) that any reasonable measure of the training vs effectiveness ratio is going to favor the handgun.

Nonsense. A person will draw and fire a taser without hesitation whereas the much larger moral and legal consequences of firing a handgun will prevent their use in a lot of cases.
4.17.2009 2:23pm
Kirk:
Oren,

We are focusing on different things here. By "effectiveness" I meant actual stopping power; what you are talking about is something related to the user's willingness to deploy the tool. That's an interesting point, and one I wasn't taking into account in my calculus.
4.17.2009 3:10pm
Anatid:
DonP:

They shut up, offered no resistance and followed the criminal to the back room where I'm sure he promised not to hurt them if they followed his instructions
[...]
Maybe you could share with us what they did wrong to wind up dead?


If you're going to initially comply, this is the cutoff point. In the large majority of robberies-turned-murders, the victims were moved to a secondary location before the murder took place. Stepping into the alley, climbing into the van, or going into the back room should be equated with threat of imminent death. Teaching compliance without mentioning this is incredibly irresponsible.
4.17.2009 9:59pm

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