AS254: Eli vs Travis Part 2

It’s time for part 2 with Eli and Travis on gun control. After they’re done, I offer a few thoughts on the debate. Thanks so much for listening!

23 thoughts on “AS254: Eli vs Travis Part 2”

  1. I think prohibition and abstinence only sex education (morally imposed ban) are good examples that show bans don’t work with things people really want. Prohibition created more public harm with organized crime and abstinence only sex education results in more STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Without the magic wand mentioned in the show bans are not practical. I believe we can only regulate these thing to try to decrease or minimize the harm. Its unreal to expect zero harm.

    1. Exactly. Banning firearms in the US would probably make things worse. Intelligent regulation is a much better approach.

    1. No, you regulate and educate. Want to reduce alcohol-related deaths? Improve health services (including addiction services) and properly enforce laws regarding safe service in licensed venues. Maybe even place breathalyser-based interlocks on all cars (with a PIN or something so your mate can’t blow in there to lock your car down as a prank). Cars? Regulation has already resulted in significant decreases to the road toll, and as new technologies become available this should keep improving. Better driver training and tighter licensing requirements would be nice, too. Water? Education – swimming lessons for children, which should include training on how to safely supervise others in the water (and appropriate guidelines for supervision should explicitly be taught to parents when they take their children for lessons). Also, pool fences, regulations on covers (which kids can get trapped under) and so on are also effective in reducing harm. As for medicine, “preventable deaths” is a little more complex than the headline figure would make out; and medicine as an institution is constantly working towards better outcomes for patients through measures like infection control, surgical checklists (so less sponges get left in abdomens), M&M conferences (to examine the cause of death and how such things might be prevented in the future) and so on.

      On top of that, though – cars and medicine have measurable benefits which cannot be obtained through any other means (and water is unavoidable, so the idea of banning it goes beyond any sort of reasonable analogy. Alcohol is another matter, of course, with the benefits being nebulous at best but banning it being demonstrably impossible). To a large degree, though, guns can be substituted – either completely (at the admittedly absurd extreme, you could hunt or sport with a bow and arrow instead of a gun), or by restricting (you could use a double-barrelled shotgun instead of a 10-round pump-action just as effectively for most reasonable purposes). You can also apply far better regulations than are in place now on owners (at the light end, mandating safe storage in the home – locked up and unloaded; or at the extreme, you could have guns be stored only at ranges or hunting grounds where you could keep a gun that you own, which deals with Travis’ objection that he likes his gun that he built himself and so on – you just can’t take it home unless you have a valid reason, such as farming). Not to mention tightening licensing requirements to restrict unsuitable people (from a relevant history of mental illness through to being on a terrorist watchlist) from purchasing a gun in the first place (and you can easily put systems in place to enable appeals against being rejected on those grounds).

    2. Cars, alcohol, water, and medicine are useful and good things that have a small harmul side to them. Guns are just harmful.

  2. This was no contest, Eli made sense, Travis didn’t. There’s no reason we couldn’t create a society with respect to guns like England or Australia. We need to change the laws to fit the times and the technologies. The Second Amendment is completely irrelevant and obsolete in the 21st century.

  3. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    Completely useless.

    People make plenty of arguments on both sides of this. Some will try to interpret this as meaning that only a well regulated militia(national guard) should have the guns. But the other side argues, in order for the citizens to keep the well regulated militia in check, said citizens would need to own weapons.

    I’m not going to be able to fight off an arsenal that includes: Howitzers, F18s, 240G machine guns, Hell fire missiles, AT4s, M203 grenade launchers, M2 50 cal machine gun, nuclear warheads, F35 stealth fighters, M16s, M4s, G28 sniper rifle and so on with an AR15.

    If we are going to pretend like the 2nd Ammendment is still relevant, then please explain how these rights haven’t already been infringed. Any weapons that an average citizen owns really just adds up to a pee shooter to the US Military.

    I’m just not sure what principle this guy could be arguing aside from “but I really really really for serious likesies my guns.” Which I agree, is probably the best argument that exists for gun ownership.

    If people who are willing to pay a high price, in the form of licensing, insurance and mandatory training. Not in the blanket ban camp either, but let’s be serious about some regulation. How it’s not at least as regulated as operating a motor vehicle is mind boggling.

    1. Here’s the thing about the second amendment. It said 1: arms, and 2: not infringed. Swords are arms. And clearly, as was pointed out already, not *all* weapons are allowed so apparently we don’t consider limiting what kinds of arms you can have “infringement”. If banning hand grenades is not infringement, then banning guns outright is not infringement. Because swords are still available.

      So that’s all in addition to what you said about small arms being nearly useless against the military. If as Travis said your goal is to guerilla tactics and gain the sympathies of individuals in the military, you can do that without guns. But if you don’t get the sympathy of the military, your small arms will be meaningless.

      How about we go back to taking the second amendment to mean you can have a well regulated militia (national guard). Then you have a real actual force! That seems to cover all the bases that were intended by the second amendment.

      1. Yeah but the 2nd Amendment doesn’t say anything about “only a well regulated militia should possess weapons.” It says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” which is interpreted as “Because a well regulated militia is necessary to protect a free state,” after this justification “the right to keep and bare arms shall not be infringed.”

        Just means “Because we need to maintain a National guard/military for security purposes, to avoid tyranny of those in power, the people of this country get to own weapons to keep the government in check.”

        My argument is that this is useless. Because the right to own weapons that would foster mutually assured destruction between the people and the military has already been infringed. The second amendment is an anachronism now that we have such a large gap between military grade and local gun store grade weaponry.

    2. The second amendment could be made relevant be reading and believing the first clause. Make the “militia” a club you must belong to in order to own fire arms, then make membership in the militia dependent on thorough screenings like they carry out before allowing people access to classified data, including background checks and psychological evaluation. Also require extensive training on each type of weapon before allowing a person to own one. Make the aspirants pay for there training and screenings.

      Also, armed citizens can be effective against a national army using guerrilla tactics. Harassing and sniping at the larger force can mire it in endless occupation that accomplishes nothing and saps the national treasury. Have we forgotten already? We’re still mired to one degree or another in two of those situations. We gave Stinger missiles to the Afghans to use against the Soviets. You can’t operate a military in an environment with hand-held surface-to-air missiles because helicopters and cargo planes are completely vulnerable, Ask the Russians.

      A “militia” can be viable if you do it right. Of course our government has become famous world wide for doing precisely nothing—right, wrong or otherwise.

  4. So much to comment on here!

    First, it seemed like all three of you kept getting hung up on the term “ban”. Eli and Travis both stated they were in favour of regulation, not an outright ban – with an obvious disagreement about where the line shold be drawn. Eli explicitly agreed, in part 1, with the Australian system, where it is easy – by any reasonable standard – to legally own a gun (just some paperwork and storage requirements, as well as the couple hours of basic safety training required to get a license in the first place). Now, I accept that Eli’s language was often stronger than that, so I get Travis’ responding in kind, but still – the position that gun control advocates would ban all guns is at best a characterisation of the extreme, or perhaps even a complete straw man.

    I’d like to address the argument that something is “a matter of principle”, and therefore there is no amount of decreased deaths that would justify banning guns. To me, that’s no better than saying “you just have to have faith” when talking about theism. In both cases, you’re saying that there are factors which cannot be questioned which override any attempt at rational analysis of a situation. Certainly, any time we’re talking about what we should do, it’s going to come down to a battle of principles (e.g. personal liberty vs public health) which cannot be decided on empirical grounds. But you need to do better than just saying “I reject your argument on principle!” – you still need to justify why your principle is the most important out of multiple competing principles. Why, for example, is the liberty to own a weapon more valuable than reducing the frequency with which the liberty of others is infringed (to the point of their deaths) due to the rate of gun ownership?

    On top of that, whilst at some point you do have to weigh up competing principles, this “it’s the principle” (or “you just have to have faith”) argument usually comes out – as it did here – entirely prematurely, in response to an empirical argument against which the arguer cannot, apparently, offer an empirical response. We can argue principles later, but let’s at least come to some consensus on the issues we can examine empirically first! To be fair, Travis was quite reasonable in this regard, accepting many of the statistics as valid (whereas too many people with whom I speak simply dismiss them out-of-hand or try to come up with ad-hoc rationalisations), but still fell back to non-empirically justifiable responses to empirical claims.

    Another point was Travis’ claim, in response to Eli’s stats on murders in homes with guns vs homes with none, that you’re only considering one factor. I have to ask, do you have that little respect for researchers in other fields, to simply assume that they are so terrible at their jobs that they do not take steps to adequately control for other variables? Just because Eli only cited the headline numbers, doesn’t mean that’s all the data that the researchers collected! Considering the suicide studies I looked at from the previous part, the researchers controlled for a range of variables, including living alone; how the guns were stored in the home; gender, age, and race of the victim; household income; and so on. Eli’s headline figures refer to to difference between homes with and without guns AFTER all these other factors have been taken into account – the simple “guns vs. no guns” comparison would probably be significantly worse than those figures (although I’ve not looked at the articles to be certain of that). This is all basic epidemiology, and attempting to dismiss it in the way Travis did is no less offensive than creationist dismissal of evolutionary research. Certainly, if the research is flawed, that needs to be pointed out – but don’t just wash it away like that unless you’re going to properly examine the studies (or, even better, refer to the critiques levelled by other experts in the field).

    Furthermore, you cannot argue that some people justify their gun ownership on the basis of self defense whilst also acknowledging that a gun is worse than useless in that role! That’s like saying that homeopathy is bullshit, but some people feel better taking it so let’s just leave them alone – and never mind that people are harmed by using it. Or like saying religion makes some people feel good, so you shouldn’t interfere with the practice of their faith – even if they’re JW’s refusing a necessary blood transfusion for their child! If something demonstrably does not have an effect for some purpose – or if it is shown to be counterproductive when used in that way – you cannot point to that as a reason to use said thing. Furthermore, if it is the case that a gun is counterproductive when used for self defense, then anybody promoting self defense as a reason to own a gun is actively contributing to the harm of others, by providing a false justification which might sway people into buying a gun and thus being injured in an attack. Again, to draw an analogy to faith, claiming self defense is a valid use when it isn’t (or simply shrugging and saying “let people make up their own minds to accept the risks”) is no better than shrugging off the fact that support for religion by moderates lends justification to – and thus contributes to the harm caused by – fanatics.

    As to the alcohol analogy, the response is simple – alcohol is subject to significant restrictions, as it should be, and we are slowly moving toward more restrictions. And plenty of people complain about that – but there’s no constitutional right to alcohol, so those restrictions actually get put in place. Thomas’ note that 80,000 people die of alcohol-related causes each year, close to the 100k Eli cited on guns, is a little bit of a red herring – many of those ones fit in to the category of “they’re only harming themselves”, so you need to compare more appropriate numbers (e.g. owner death vs drinker death, and non-owner death vs. non-drinker death). An outright ban would be impossible (because bathtub gin, and because we know it failed miserably), but we can reduce the harms caused through regulation (as well as cultural shifts, as noted by Thomas).

    Finally, I’d like to consider the discussion of protecting oneself against the government. First, I agree with Thomas – I do not see how any reasonable person could expect to stand up to the US government. Indeed, last time it was tried in the US (the civil war), the government came out on top in a much more symmetrical conflict than would arise today. Furthermore, there’s solid research (e.g. showing that non-violent uprisings are far more likely to be effective in achieving changes in government policy than violent ones (including against the most oppressive regimes in recent history, such as the Nazis!). Once again, arming the populace in case they need to rise up against the government looks to be counterproductive based on the data that researchers have collected. As for self defense, there’s no point in assessing the intention of the second amendment – to protect the people against government gone bad – and saying that it is a valid principle, if the evidence shows that the principle is based on faulty assumptions (that armed insurrection is the best – or even just an effective – means of achieving that goal, as opposed to the actual situation where it is actively harmful your chances of success).

  5. The pro-gun argument seemed to constantly get hung up on this all or nothing red herring. If we were to outright ban guns (the extreme case), then no, they wouldn’t magically all disappear overnight. But guns are NOT like alcohol which is easy to make even by accident in anybody’s house. Without a real significant supply, and with a good buyback system, guns would diminish quickly. If we could take the numbers down to 10% of current levels, how easy do you think it would be for every poor criminal to have a gun? How would they afford one? The black market is called a market for a reason and guns would be damned expensive in that scenario.

    So if the number of guns was down to 10%, that would cut 90% of the suicides for sure (which I agree is a gray area, but at least without guns a suicide attempt isn’t a snap decision that cannot be taken back). It would mean the only gun toting criminals would be bigger organized crime which is NOT what people actually worry about when walking in a dark alley. It would mean heated debates at a bar wouldn’t turn into a gun fight. It would mean kids can’t find a gun in your closet and shoot someone on accident. All that would go away! Even thought you didn’t eliminate every single gun!

    The argument along the lines of “violence or crime would still happen by other means” is a straw man. Of course it would, you can’t eliminate crime completely. But additionally, when violent crime happens without guns, guess what? People don’t die as easily. A fist fight, a beating, even a stabbing are easily survivable most of the time. And a knife is a lot easier to escape than someone blasting away at you with a semiautomatic pistol. I can run, block, or just plain survive a stabbing. But a bullet will cause a much more dangerous and messy wound.

    So Travis wanted to talk about “matters of degree” like that doesn’t matter. But a 90% decrease in murders is a matter of degree that is well worth it.

    The alcohol argument is the best I’ve heard. Self inflicted harm aside (because people definitely have every right to choose how to live their *own* lives), the best I can come up with is that guns have no other purpose than violence. People drink because it feels good and it’s a good social lubricant. It’s fun. It’s a daily thing for a lot of people that drink. It tastes good. And, the worst it does is add bad judgment, but it isn’t itself a weapon. Driving with alcohol is like a weapon, but that is also banned. Guns on the other hand have no purpose but violence. You like target shooting? Get a BB gun, paintball gun, airsoft gun. So the best you can say is you just “really like” having the deadly force type of gun. Well, that isn’t a good enough reason and I’d be happy to make that illegal.

    How to ban guns? Make the distribution of new guns illegal. No gun shops, no gun shows. Have a buyback program. Confiscate every gun in any crime. See how those gun numbers drop like a rock. You don’t have to get all of them, you just need to eliminate the supply. They aren’t going to be brewing in the bathtubs in every other house, there will be no more supplies. You might not even need to make ownership illegal, let them stay in the family like heirlooms (although, even for that some should be strictly illegal, e.g. big magazines).

    I could go on and on, as I’m sure others could. The reason it’s hard to debate this is both sides want there to be a simple solution (ban vs you can’t eliminate all crime, etc). It is going to be a matter of degree, but a compounding interest type of degree that eventually amounts to a huge change.

  6. Our focus is too narrow and exclusionary. Saying: “Ban” vs. “Arm Everyone” or “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” is equivalent to saying: “Only good nations with with nukes can stop bad nations with nukes.” That’s demented!
    We need to focus on the origins of violence and work to study, educate, negotiate, and use the scientific method to address the problem.
    Few people know that the NRA and the Gun Lobby actively work against data collectiona nd gun violence study, and represent the gun manufacturers instead of their members. 96% of NRA members support universal background checks, which the NRA strongly opposes. From

    The Gun Lobby has worked to pass bills that:
    – prevent pediatricians from speaking to patients and their families about guns they have in their homes.
    – prevent military counselors from asking enlisted and former military officers about their personal firearms, even if the soldiers appear at risk of doing harm to themselves or others.
    – opposes micro-stamping, a technology that would help match bullets found at crime scenes to the guns from which they were fired.
    – opposes “smart gun” technology, used in Europe, which permits a gun to be fired only by its owner.
    – prevent the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence as a public-health issue, even though the C.D.C. routinely studies the health consequences of many products and technologies, including automobiles.

    The Gun Lobby works to make sure that the only answer to gun violence is MOAR GUNS!

    Next time someone says “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, challenge them: Citation please! Where did you get your data?

  7. Travis was clearly overmatched here. He brought intuition to a fact fight. It wasn’t even close. WTG, Eli.

  8. Another way to look at this is to imagine instead of talking about guns, we are talking about weapons-grade uranium core. Would we accept that even if someone was trained in the proper way to handle it, and even if the person was willing to accept the risks, we would allow it to be purchased by the general public? Of course not. Well, what if they just wanted it for their own personal entertainment? Then it’s okay, right? Of course not. These kinds of arguments fail to take in consideration the actual facts of he matter. I’m glad to see Eli came prepared. Too bad Travis wasn’t. He might have changed his mind.

  9. On the whole I thought the debate was good. Some interesting points were brought up by Eli that made me rethink my own more pro gun stance on gun control.

    However, one criticism I would bring up is that for a lot of the debate it seemed like they were both talking past each other because the debate focused on specific ethical issue, namely gun control, but the debaters had very different principals they were coming from. Eli was very much focused on the consequences of actions in a very utilitarian way and Travis had consequences being less of importance, rather focusing on a higher right.

    I would have like to see more of a debate on which principal should be used in the gun debate issue, which did begin to happen when Travis brought up the alcohol analogy to see whether Eli focused on the consequences in any of his other ethical beliefs, basically to see if Eli was being consistent. To your credit, Thomas you did acknowledge that this may be an inconsistency in your ethical beliefs. Another example Travis could have used make this point could have been torture. He could have asked whether if torturing a person if it saved hundreds of lives be ethical to Eli and if Eli said no, like some liberals do, he could have pointed out that Eli was than arguing from a principal that did not hold the consequences as import as he was with the gun control issue.

    Anyways, if you were to do this debate again it might be interesting to have two debaters that disagreed on the issue of gun control but agreed on the ethical principal they should use in deciding what was ethical. I do really enjoy these hot issue debates, so keep up the good work!

  10. Regarding the alcohol sidetrack, Travis should read the 18th Amendment. Alcohol was banned in an attempt to make us safer. But it turns out that the drunken rapes you stop are replaced by Al Capone. Hence the 21st Amendment.

    As for people still getting hands on guns even after regulations, that’s true. But they become much more difficult and costly to obtain. I could probably go downtown here and get a cheap gun for under $100. In Australia, a semi-auto pistol could be over $10,000 making it much less likely to be in the hands of some common criminal:

    Please tell me you’ve seen the Jim Jefferies bit on gun control:

  11. Let me start by saying that I agree with the position I believe Eli took – not necessarily an outright, ban but severe regulation. Such regulation would effectively ban guns for all but those who need guns for occupation.

    I was hoping to hear more of a debate. Correct me if this is wrong, but Travis’ position broke down to I like guns and I don’t care how many people they kill…”it is a principal argument”. He seemed to agree on bans for machine guns, clips with more than 10 rounds, rockets, etc.

    Anyway, I found both parts of the podcast to be frustrating. Eli brought statistics and thought to his argument and Travis seemed to agree with every point. Yet, he stubbornly maintained his stance – guns good – without anything to support his position.

    I find the alcohol argument to be very weak. Several have made good arguments and I won’t repeat them. Plus I believe this is just a tactic to shift the focus …

    Lastly, I want to say that I generally enjoy the debates presented on the podcast. I find that I am often thinking of both sides of a given issue days after listening to the podcast. In previous podcasts, it seemed that both sides have positions but seem to be listening to the other side and weighing the points. It seemed like there is a genuine exchange of ideas.

    I was disappointed in these episodes. Travis seemed to merely want to avoid the issue with talks of banning alcohol or religion as a comparison to banning guns. Even after making that point and having Eli (and Thomas) concede that they would ban alcohol he abandoned his own argument.

    Very frustrating.

  12. If you need someone for a debate you feel would be interesting id be happy to guest either side. Im willing to be prescreened. I really appreciate your willingness to participate with the goal of understanding what is most beneficial.

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