Keep it to common terms of abuse

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Small-scale violence most frequently aborts, Randall Collins notes:

Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, a UCLA researcher, followed a loosely-organized gang in Tucson, Arizona, as they went looking for fights. It consisted of a couple of dozen young white men, all of them bored with middle-class life style, who went to parties hoping to find someone to fight with. They were looking for opponents who would give them some action and boost their prestige, at least in their own eyes: black guys, tough guys, Hispanic gangs, bikers, athletes. But although there were plenty of over-crowded house parties in this desert city, with plenty of loud music and drinking going on, the surprise is how difficult it was for them to find a fight. They took a belligerent attitude, bumped into people, gave people the eye, but most of the time fights didn’t happen. Fights were rare enough that when one happened, the group would spend weeks thereafter talking about it, going over the details, bragging about what they did and even about taking a beating if they lost.

Why did this action-seeking group have so much trouble finding fights? Jackson-Jacobs spelled out the subtle details that had to happen if two sides were going to fight. These little details were only semi-conscious, but they boiled down to the fact that both sides had to decide that a fight was coming up, and this had to be a mutual feeling of emotion and timing. Like a demo only turning into a riot a couple of hours in, no one walks into a party and starts a fight from the very first minute. And if the minutes go by long enough, there is a feeling that this isn’t the time and place, so the action-seekers go somewhere else.

[Another hypothesis is that fights were also inhibited because typically rival groups fight within the same identity or demographic: as we know from gang murders in Chicago (Andrew Papachristos’ research) and gang fights generally, most such violence is segregated: black gangs fight with black gangs, Hispanic gangs with Hispanic, Irish gangs with Irish, Italian Mafias with each other. Jackson-Jacobs’ white middle-class guys were an anomaly on the tough-guy scene; they didn’t identify as skinheads, so they had no counterpart group to fight with them. J-J’s crew were looking for the prestige of fighting somebody tough; maybe they didn’t perceive that the same goes for the other side, and real fighting gangs didn’t think they were a worthy opponent.]

The pattern holds generally across different kinds of small-scale fights: most encounters where people threaten each other with violence do not actually end in violence. Most stay at the level of angry insults — the human bark is worse than our bite. Even if it gets physical, most fights do not go beyond pushing and shoving. Videos of fights (posted from cell phones) generally show that after a few wild swings, fighters tend to spin away from each other, leaving themselves at a distance just out of reach while the fight winds down. Showing your willingness to fight is on the whole more important than what damage you do. Researchers in England, using CCTV from pubs and the streets outside, found that angry disputes were broken up, in the great majority of cases, by friends separating the fighters.

[...]

A key feature that keeps quarrels from escalating is when they are balanced. Two guys quarrel with each other. They push out their chests, get their hands into fighting position. They yell insults at each other, each getting louder, trying to shout the other down. A lot here depends on what the audience will do — whether other people take sides or encourage them to fight; or do the opposite, ignoring the quarrel, which tends to take the energy out of it. Left to themselves, the belligerents usually find themselves repeating the same insults, over and over; they are both talking at the same time, which means they aren’t listening to each other, and it just becomes a contest of keeping up the noise. (How long do dogs go on barking at each other? Check it out.) After a short period of time — usually less than 60 seconds — this gets boring. They get tired of a quarrel that is going nowhere. Typically they will break it off, with a gesture of disgust, or slamming the door on the way out.

This suggests some practical advice. If you get into a threatening face-contest with someone, keep it in equilibrium. Just mimic what the other person does; don’t escalate it. After a while it becomes boring — and boredom is your friend. (Sir Francis Bacon, 400 years ago, wrote that if you are in an angry dispute, keep it to common terms of abuse; don’t try to score a cutting remark with a personal insult that your opponent will never forgive.)

When do demonstrations become riots?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Randall Collins turns his sociological eye on protest demonstrations and when they do or do not turn into violent riots:

According to Dr. Anne Nassauer, sociologist at the Free University Berlin, most demonstrations are peaceful. Her research focuses on demonstrations in the US and in Germany, with comparisons elsewhere in Europe, where 92–98% of protests are peaceful. The impression that demonstrations easily turn violent is created because the news media ignore most demonstrations unless they are violent.

Even when participants announce in advance they will use violence, that is not enough to predict that a demo will be violent. Nor does it matter whether authorities announce a zero-tolerance policy, declaring that any provocation by demonstrators will be met by force and arrest.

It makes no difference whether or not a demonstration includes participants who come prepared to fight. Since the 1990s, demos have generally included an avowedly violent group known as the Black Bloc — who wear black clothes, facemasks, body armor and shields, and link arms in aggressive tactics against police and opponents. The names have changed over the years; in the 1960s the pro-violence faction were called “Maoists”, while very recently they have gone under the “Anti-Fa” banner. Such groups are usually a small proportion of a large demonstration. But as we can see in photos of riots, only 5-10% of the those present do all the violence; so a relatively small violent group can potentially make a demo into a riot. The surprising finding is that whether such a group is present or not does not make a difference in whether the demo will stay peaceful or not.

Avowed intentions do not matter much when it comes to violence. Declaring that you are going to be violent does not predict what you will actually do. On the flip side, declaring that a protest will be peaceful does not guarantee that it will turn out that way; violence can break out even when demonstrators plan to use non-violent tactics and the policing style is hands-off. As Nassauer shows, even when the police announce they will avoid using force, and both sides meet beforehand to plan the protest route and agree on how to avoid confrontations, things can go wrong. At the moment of outbreak, violence is inflamed by surprise and outrage on each side that their agreement was violated.

Why don’t groups of people do what they say they are going to do? In contentious protests, whether the event turns violent is the result of turning points that first increase tension on both sides, and then trigger off a collective reaction. It is less a matter of conscious planning than of emotions building up during the situation when the two sides confront each other face to face. It is an emergent process. Dr. Isabel Bramsen of Copenhagen University, who studied demonstrations and violence in the Arab Spring uprisings, called her analysis “Route Causes of Violence” — i.e. the causes of violent outbreaks emerge en route, rather than determining what will happen in advance.

Typically, if violence occurs during a protest demonstration, it will break out one to three hours in. A demo does not start out by being violent from the very first minute. Even if protesters intend to be violent, they don’t start off with using rocks, guns, or gasoline fire bombs; nor do authorities immediately fire tear gas and automatic weapons.

[This is true, amazingly enough, even in Arab Spring locations like Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria. Bramsen found that even though authoritarian regimes order their forces to use force, they do not start firing at the first sign of a demonstration. Here, too, timing and collective emotions determine what will happen.]

It takes time to build up high tension, to build up the feeling of when the moment is ripe for violence. This is a mutual moment felt on both sides.

[...]

If the emotional trigger does not happen by then, both sides start to relax. As if both unconsciously feel, too late now, maybe next time.

Confrontational tension and fear make most violence incompetent

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

Violence is difficult to carry out, Randall Collins reminds us:

This is the main finding of research on what happens when humans find themselves in situations threatening violence. It runs contrary to our cultural beliefs, and the way violence is depicted in the news and entertainment media. But the news reports violence that happens, not fights that abort, angry quarrels that fritter out, or guns that are pointed but not fired, or fired but miss. Films and TV shows make violence look dramatic, but if they showed what it actually looks like no one would want to watch it.

He summarizes his own Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory:

Confrontational tension and fear: In situations threatening violence, participants may start out with angry bluster, loud voices, and menacing gesture. But when it comes to bodily attack on their opponent, even the most aggressive show tension and fear on their faces. This tension makes most violence incompetent. Soldiers and cops who are proficient on a firing range often miss when their target is a live human being; gang-bangers are even more incompetent, firing wildly and quickly running or driving away.

Micro-sociology triggers physiology, and bodily reactions get in the way of conscious intentions. Face-to-face confrontations are socially tense, pumping adrenaline, the flight-or-fight hormone, an undifferentiated arousal that can go either way. Many soldiers in combat do not fire their guns. Like cops in shoot-outs, those who do fire often have perceptual distortions, time slowing to dream-like or speeding up to a blur, a sound-proof tunnel where shooters can’t hear their own guns. Some freeze; some hit their own side in friendly fire; some go into a frenzy where they can’t stop firing in an overkill of bullets until they have emptied their magazine. The same applies to fists, kicks, or knife-stabs. The common denominator is high adrenaline levels, which mobilize the large muscles of the body but desensitize fine motor control of hands and fingers.

What happens in a confrontation depends on the relative levels of adrenaline on both sides. If one side can stay in the zone of medium arousal while the other loses bodily control, the more competent performer at violence will beat the incompetent performer. Not that the better fighter at the moment has to be really competent, just less incompetent than the other. At the extreme, one side becomes paralyzed at very high adrenaline levels, making an easy target for the opponent still capable of attacking.

To be skilled in violence is to keep your own adrenaline level down to medium levels, while driving up your opponent’s to high levels that make them incompetent. If adrenaline levels are equal, neither side performs worse than the other, and the confrontation stalls out, the fight aborting or winding down by losing momentum. We see this also in sexual aggression.

Attacking the weak: Confrontational tension and fear (ct/f ) is a barrier that aggressors have to overcome if they are to deliver any violence. There are several ways around this barrier. The most common pattern is attacking a weak victim: someone who is physically much weaker; someone who is unarmed when you are armed; someone who is running away. Outnumbering the opponent is a major confidence-booster. In photos of riots and brawls, the most common pattern is a group of between 3 and 6 attackers hitting and kicking an isolated individual. Without this advantage, evenly matched fights usually are stalemates, coming to nothing or quickly aborting; Having even one supporter on the weaker side shifts the emotional balance.

The advantage is not so much physical but emotional domination. Robbers with guns are nevertheless wary of hold-ups where one is a lone individual outnumbered by victims and bystanders; most successful robberies consist of 2 or 3 robbers against an isolated shop-keeper. Back-up in robberies is confidence-building, and a way to establish emotional dominance over the victim. Even police act this way; the more police on the scene, the more likely they are to commit extensive violence in making arrests. Successful violence comes from establishing the mood and rhythm from the outset, driving the opponent into passivity.

Confrontation-minimizing tactics: Another way around the barrier of ct/f is to avoid the main source of tension: threatening the other person face-to-face. Eye contact makes the encounter tense. Robbers and muggers find it easiest to attack from behind, where the two sides cannot see each other’s eyes. Wearing masks and hoods emboldens the attacker and disconcerts victims by making the attacker appear un-human. And in the modern high-tech world, cyber attacks are psychologically easy, since they involve no human confrontation at all.

Audience support: Onlookers who encourage a fight help overcome ct/f and enable fighters to carry on much longer than they would if there were no one watching. How long and severe the fight is depends on the size and attitude of the audience: most destructive where a large audience is unified in cheering on a fight; shorter and less harmful when the audience is divided or unsure; when bystanders ignore a fight it soon peters out.

Violence as fun and entertainment: Fights are particularly likely on occasions of leisure and fun: parties, drinking places, holidays, crowds at games and concerts. These are carousing zones where normal routines are suspended and special excitement is expected. Violence on these occasions still requires overcoming ct/f, finding emotional domination over weak victims, and/or support of an audience.

With the recent scandals in the news, he goes on to ask, Do the conditions for successful violence apply also to sexual violence? and supplies some examples where confrontational tension and fear play a large role:

A young man in his late teens followed an attractive middle-aged woman into her apartment building, by hurrying through the security door behind her. No one else is in the lobby. In the elevator he pulls a knife and threatens to rape her. Although a small woman (5 foot 2 inches), she is a top executive in a non-profit organization, used to exercising authority. She says disapprovingly, what would your mother think if she knew what you are doing? When the elevator door opened, he runs off.

A tall (5 foot 9 inches), attractive woman in her mid-20s is running in an open area, when a man about her age runs up behind her and grabs her. She turns around and swings at him, knocking off his glasses and breaking them. (What did he look like?) About six feet tall, long hair and mustache, medium build. He immediately starts apologizing. She steps on his glasses, and glares at him as he retreats.

The tables turned when the rapist fails to establish emotional domination. In the previous case, the attacker has a knife, but as in hold-ups, a weapon is not enough to be successful unless the victim is intimidated.

Short of rape, milder forms of sexual aggression often fail, perhaps most of the time. David Grazian’s research on night clubs found that male patrons often engage in “the girl hunt,” seeking pickups. But these young men did more talking among themselves about the women they saw than actually making contact with them. Generally they lowered their sights to getting phone numbers, not too successfully at that; and groups of young women who went to clubs together often gave them fake numbers. In other words, even in venues explicitly themed for sexual encounters, most of the “girl hunters” stayed on the sidelines, did not approach aggressively, and were rarely successful.

Is this true across the spectrum of sexual aggression? Accounts in the news media focus on aggressions that succeed, but even here we find most aggressors do not get far.

He has much, much more to say on the topic, but here’s his bottom line:

The micro-sociology of violence in general suggests there are pathways by which women can deter sexual aggression. Perhaps surprisingly, such micro-deterrence may be more successful in preventing the extreme forms of sexual violence — bodily rape, than lesser forms like verbal aggression. But we just don’t know, since we have so little evidence covering situations where women silence men’s verbal advances. The common denominators are, extrapolating from violence generally: keep facing your opponent; looking him in the face, head up, as directly as possible; keep calm and strong-voiced as possible; repeat-repeat-repeat to the point of boredom. Even the arch casting-couch rapist, Weinstein, failed in the majority of his documented attempts; and this is consistent with other evidence.

CDC did look into defensive gun uses but neglected to tell anyone

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Back in the 1990s, the CDC looked into the number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) — but neglected to make its findings public. Whoops!

Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck conducted the most thorough previously known survey data on the question in the 1990s. His study, which has been harshly disputed in pro-gun-control quarters, indicated that there were more than 2.2 million such defensive uses of guns (DGUs) in America a year.

Now Kleck has unearthed some lost CDC survey data on the question. The CDC essentially confirmed Kleck’s results. But Kleck didn’t know about that until now, because the CDC never reported what it found.

Kleck’s new paper — “What Do CDC’s Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?” — finds that the agency had asked about DGUs in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

[...]

From Kleck’s own surveys, he found that only 79 percent of those who reported a DGU “had also reported a gun in their household at the time of the interview,” so he thinks whatever numbers the CDC found need to be revised upward to account for that. (Kleck speculates that CDC showed a sudden interest in the question of DGUs starting in 1996 because Kleck’s own famous/notorious survey had been published in 1995.)

At any rate, Kleck downloaded the datasets for those three years and found that the “weighted percent who reported a DGU…was 1.3% in 1996, 0.9% in 1997, 1.0% in 1998, and 1.07% in all three surveys combined.”

Kleck figures if you do the adjustment upward he thinks necessary for those who had DGU incidents without personally owning a gun in the home at the time of the survey, and then the adjustment downward he thinks necessary because CDC didn’t do detailed follow-ups to confirm the nature of the incident, you get 1.24 percent, a close match to his own 1.326 percent figure.

He concludes that the small difference between his estimate and the CDC’s “can be attributed to declining rates of violent crime, which accounts for most DGUs. With fewer occasions for self-defense in the form of violent victimizations, one would expect fewer DGUs.”

[...]

UPDATE: You will note the original link doesn’t work right now. It was pointed out to me by Robert VerBruggen of National Review that Kleck treats the CDC’s surveys discussed in this paper as if they were national in scope, as Kleck’s original survey was, but they apparently were not. From VerBruggen’s own looks at CDC’s raw data, it seems that over the course of the three years, the following 15 states were surveyed: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. (Those states, from 2000 census data, contained around 27 percent of the U.S. population.) Informed of this, Kleck says he will recalculate the degree to which CDC’s survey work indeed matches or corroborates his, and we will publish a discussion of those fresh results when they come in. But for now Kleck has pulled the original paper from the web pending his rethinking the data and his conclusions.

Shotgun or sidearm?

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Shotgun or sidearm? This 1976 Sid Davis police training film for the Pasadena Police Department should help you decide:

Watch the first couple minutes, with the shootout and its immediate aftermath. How far away did the robber appear to be? And what kind of spread should you expect from buckshot at that range? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that pellets should not be hitting six feet off line at a couple dozen yards.

I was pretty surprised when they set up the scenario at the target range at “the same distance, about 50 yards.” OK, at that distance you should expect a fair amount of spread, but more like a four-foot diameter — which is still plenty dangerous on a crowded sidewalk.

The attitude toward revolvers is, well, it’s quite optimistic: “Most cops get a fair amount of practice with their sidearms, but they don’t fire a shotgun very often.” I especially liked this comment: “With his thirty-eight, Don would have hit only the suspect. One shot.” Yeah, a cop shooting a double-action revolver at 50 yards, while getting shot at, is going to hit the suspect with one shot?

Enjoy the whole thing.

Be careful this week

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz recommends that we be careful this week:

Terrorists and crazy people put a lot of credence in the importance of symbolism. Historical anniversary dates are important to them.

This week contains the anniversary dates of:

  • The Boston Bombing
  • The Columbine Shooting
  • The Virginia Tech Massacre
  • The Waco Hostage Siege
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing
  • Hitler’s Birthday

What caused the 1968 riots?

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

MLK’s assassination kicked up a wave of riots, but why exactly?

Modern thought has a tendency toward economic reductionism, viewing every historic problem as a mechanical working-out of underlying economic processes, and every solution in those terms.

After the 1960s riots, governments leaped in with public housing and economic redevelopment programs that did little to stem the decline of riot-haunted cities. After 9/11, we heard anguished discussions about poverty and economic stagnation in the Middle East. And when the United States elected Donald Trump president, reporters circled old factory towns like vultures, feasting on images of rusted-out manufacturing plants that could be fed to readers as the “reason” behind the political upheaval.

These things do matter. But in the words of sociologist Seymour Spilerman, who did some of the seminal research on the 1960s riots, they’re “background conditions.” The economic deprivation inflicted by America’s racial caste system was real and abominable — and yet, says Spilerman, “in general, it’s not economic conditions which are the immediate precipitants of riots.”

While a general level of deprivation may make riots more likely (if for no other reason than because the poor have so little to lose), variations in economic deprivation don’t. In the 1960s, blacks were economically oppressed everywhere, but there were still places where things were better or worse. So if economic conditions lead to riots, we’d have expected to see the most civil disorder in the places with the worst hardship. But that’s not what the data show.

Nor did economic factors predict when riots broke out. After all, the 1960s were a period of unusually rapid economic progress for black Americans, thanks to anti-discrimination campaigns and the Civil Rights Act. If poverty and unemployment were driving rioters, the 1960s should have been one of the most racially peaceful decades in American history.

What did cause the riots, then? Well, rage and despair and a lot of hard-to-quantify socio-political factors. But taking them all in total, I’d sum them all up with one word: respect. Whatever our economic conditions, we also want — we need — to command a certain minimal amount of admiration from our fellow citizens.

[...]

In the late 1960s, as the legal barriers fell, the gulf between legal status and social reality may have chafed more than usual.

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide:

There is no clear correlation whatsoever between gun ownership rate and gun homicide rate. Not within the USA. Not regionally. Not internationally. Not among peaceful societies. Not among violent ones. Gun ownership doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t make us less safe. The correlation simply isn’t there. It is blatantly not-there. It is so tremendously not-there that the “not-there-ness” of it alone should be a huge news story.

Gun Murder Rate Across US States

Firearm Homicide Rate vs. Guns Per Capita

Inside an accused school shooter’s mind

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

This look inside an accused school shooter’s mind is as disturbing as you might imagine:

Six days before he allegedly opened fire on an elementary school playground, the eighth-grader returned to his Instagram group chat to fixate, yet again, on his most intense interests: guns and bombs and the mass murder of children.

“My plan,” wrote Jesse Osborne, who had turned 14 three weeks earlier, “is shooting my dad getting his keys getting in his truck, driving to the elementary school 4 mins away, once there gear up, shoot out the bottom school class room windows, enter the building, shoot the first class which will be the 2d grade, grab teachers keys so I don’t have to hasle to get through any doors.”

He had been researching other school shooters for months and, determined to outdo them, learned exactly how many people they’d murdered: 13 at Columbine High; 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary; 32 at Virginia Tech.

“I think ill probably most likely kill around 50 or 60,” Jesse declared. “If I get lucky maybe 150.”

[...]

“The coldbloodedness, the callousness of the attack — not only before but afterwards,” said Langman, who was not involved in the case but has reviewed Jesse’s confession. “Even having done it, he’s not struck with horror or guilt.”

In fact, James Ballenger, a psychiatrist who interviewed Jesse for a total of nine hours, found that the teen reveled in what he’d done.

[...]

“I have to beat Adam Laza…” he wrote nine days before the Sept. 28, 2016, shooting in a misspelled reference to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza. “Atleast 40.”

Two days later, he debated whether he should attack his middle school, from which he’d been expelled, or his elementary school, just up the road. He decided on Townville Elementary because it was closer and had no armed security. Jesse, who considered himself the victim of an unfair world, announced online that he would kill kids he didn’t know and had never met “before they bullie the nobodys.”

“Itll be like shooting fish in a barrel,” he wrote his friends, whose identities remain unclear, along with whether the FBI has tracked any of them down. The agency declined to comment, citing Jesse’s open case.

In the chat, he said he had researched police response times for the area and found that it would take them 15 minutes to get there, maybe 45 for SWAT. He said he would throw pipe bombs into each classroom before he got in a shootout with police and killed himself with his shotgun. He said he had been planning a massacre for two years.

A detective later discovered that Jesse, then a 6-foot-tall, 147-pound wispy-haired blond with a voice that tended to crack, had used his phone to Google these terms: “deadliest US mass shootings,” “top 10 mass shooters,” “youngest mass murderer,” “10 youngest murderers in history.”

Seven hours after he was pinned to the ground outside Townville Elementary by a volunteer firefighter, Jesse acknowledged in an interview with investigators that he’d shot far fewer kids than he’d intended. The problem, he explained, was the weapon. He’d only had access to the .40-caliber pistol his father kept in a dresser drawer. It had jammed on the playground, just 12 seconds after he first pulled the trigger.

[...]

It wasn’t until he moved to a middle school in a neighboring county that his “other side,” as one psychiatrist put it, became clear. He pulled the legs off crickets and smashed frogs against the ground and habitually watched a video of kittens being mutilated. He also posted Instagram videos about Columbine that some at the school considered a potential threat. The teen grew more volatile, insisting that he’d been bullied, a claim investigators later questioned.

After one kid poked his chest, Jesse threatened him.

“When I come back with a rifle, you’re going to be the one I shoot,” he recalled to Ballenger, who noted in court that Jesse “loved how much it scared the boy.”

Then, one day, he brought a hatchet and a machete in his backpack. When another student spotted the weapons and reported him, Jesse was expelled and arrested, serving a brief stint in juvenile detention before being placed on probation.

It was then, as a home-schooler, that he became consumed with violent fantasies, the court evidence showed. How much his parents knew about them remains unclear, but at least once, the couple came across Internet messages he’d written that they found disturbing, and his mother acknowledged to investigators that he’d become increasingly difficult to raise.

[...]

Jesse told police that he also had discovered the “true crime community” on Tumblr, where fans of serial killers and mass murderers gather to delight in their shared devotion. Through that, his fascination with other school shooters, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, bloomed. His Instagram username included “nbk,” for the movie “Natural Born Killers,” and “kmfdm,” for a German industrial band — a pair of pop-culture references that appeared frequently in the writings of the Columbine killers.

[...]

“Now I have a life,” Jesse announced near the end of his confession. “Probably won’t get a job, but I’ll — I’ll at least have a life.”

That sounded bizarre for a teenager who knew he was likely to face decades in prison, but, as the experts who would analyze him soon discovered, the comment spoke to Jesse’s chief motivation.

Ballenger, a psychiatrist with 40 years of experience, had already analyzed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in a Charleston church in 2015, and Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011. What he saw in Jesse was a young man who killed not because of bullies or abuse or a fractured mind, but because he wanted to attain the life and status he’d envisioned.

“He was going to be famous, the best shooter ever,” Ballenger testified. “He was going to be worshiped for a long time — worshiped.”

“Did you see evidence of him looking at statistics of people to see how he lines up?” a prosecutor asked him.

Ballenger noted Jesse’s Google searches for other mass shootings before his attack.

“He actually confirmed that he would be one of the youngest, if not the youngest,” the doctor said.

“And that was one of his goals?”

“That was his goal,” Ballenger told the court. “To be the best shooter — to get 50 to 60.”

Any study of gun violence should include how guns save lives

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Any study of “gun violence” should include how guns save lives, Paul Hsieh argues:

The numbers of defensive gun uses (DGUs) each year is controversial. But one study ordered by the CDC and conducted by The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council reported that, “Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence”:

Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.

Another study estimates there are 1,029,615 DGUs per year “for self-protection or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere” excluding “military service, police work, or work as a security guard,” (within the range of the National Academies’ paper), yielding an estimate of 162,000 cases per year where someone “almost certainly would have been killed” if they “had not used a gun for protection.”

(In comparison, there were 11,208 homicide deaths by firearm in the US in 2012. There were a total of 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms,” of which the majority were suicides, 21,175.)

The second point he makes is that the value of firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens should be measured in terms of lives saved or crimes prevented, not criminals killed:

As an example of the latter type of analysis, one recent Washington Post story reported that, “For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die”:

In 2012, there were 8,855 criminal gun homicides in the FBI’s homicide database, but only 258 gun killings by private citizens that were deemed justifiable, which the FBI defines as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.” That works out to one justifiable gun death for every 34 unjustifiable gun deaths.

However, this comparison can be misleading. An armed civilian does not have to kill the criminal in order to save an innocent life. As the National Research Council notes, “[E]ffective defensive gun use need not ever lead the perpetrator to be wounded or killed. Rather, to assess the benefits of self-defense, one needs to measure crime and injury averted. The particular outcome of an offender is of little relevance.”

His last point is a bit of a political Rorschach test:

The right to self-defense does not depend on statistics and numbers.

Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

The Heritage Foundation summarizes what we know about mass shootings:

  1. Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer.
  2. Many gun control measures are not likely to be helpful.
  3. Public mass shooters typically have histories of mental health issues.
  4. The United States does not have an extraordinary problem with mass public shootings compared to other developed countries.
  5. Mass killers often find ways to kill even without firearms.
  6. Australia did not “eliminate mass public shootings” by banning assault weapons.

How does the number of steps to buy a gun relate to overall homicide and suicide rates?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

A recent New York Times story lamented how few steps there were to buy a gun in the US versus other countries, so sociologist David Yamane decided to ask the obvious question, Is there a patterned relationship between the number of steps someone has to go through to buy a gun in these 15 countries and the countries’ overall rates of homicide and suicide?

Homicide rates are weakly related to the number of steps it takes to buy a gun in these 15 countries. The polynomial trendline increases through the middle of the range then decreases at the high end (Japan), but the correlation is weak (0.071).

The relationship between suicide rates and the number of steps it takes to buy a gun is slightly stronger (0.085), but still weak and not in the direction suicide prevention advocates would like. The polynomial trendline increases fairly consistently through the range then jumps up somewhat at the end (again, Japan).

Looking at the combined rate of homicide and suicide, we see a still stronger though still weak correlation (0.123) with steps to buy a gun, with the polynomial trendline starting at the United States (2 steps and 14.58 combined rate) and arcing its way upward and leveling off toward Japan (13 steps and 18.71 combined rate). In between you can find two countries with 8 steps but dramatically different death rates by homicide and suicide (Austria’s 12.61 rate and Brazil’s 32.34 rate). Ditto for 7 steps: Germany 9.95 combined rate vs. Russia’s 45.91 combined rate.

The closest countries to the United States are Austria (8 steps, 12.61 combined rate) and Yemen (2 steps, 16.67 combined rate).

We could never have imagined what happened in Venezuela

Monday, March 19th, 2018

We never could have imagined — or prepped for — what happened in Venezuela, a Venezuelan “prepper” explains:

An economic collapse this long seemed like something that was entirely out of the question. It was entirely unpredictable. I would have expected a pandemics or a coup d’etat long before this hungry zombie-like scenario.

We knew something disturbing was going to happen sooner or later. We could feel it in the atmosphere…but nothing like this. We never thought it would be impossible to find a battery, or engine oil, or gasoline (Jeez, this was an oil-producing country!!) or that kids were going to be endangered in the very door of their schools.

He lists a number of supplies he should have stockpiled and preparations he should have made. A few stand out:

A large, buried diesel custom-made aluminum tank with a proper sized generator (there is not too much space left in our place: we live in a subdivision, houses are wall to wall next to each other) with a homemade silencer, and adequately rigged to the wiring of the house for the largest systems, like freezers and air conditioning.

Enclosing our garage before the steel rebar disappeared from the white market and the production was destined to the black and grey market. (I hate fencing, it is like living in a birdcage, but this would helped a lot for peace of mind).

Perhaps a chicken coop with a couple of hens. The eggs price has been so inflated this days that a single egg costs more than the minimum wage. A hen produces more than a laborer. Do you remember that stories about the eggs, chocolate, and potatoes acting as currency in the WWII? It is becoming currency here too.

Another SUV, with a much taller ground clearance, larger tires, diesel-powered with no electronics and a huge front fender. Something heavy, strong, black or dark grey, windows covered by that plastic clear bullet proof sheeting, able to plow a pack of thugs in motorcycles out of the way without a blink.

How psychopaths see the world

Friday, March 16th, 2018

A new study looks at how psychopaths see the world:

Here are people who can understand what their victims are thinking but just don’t care. Hence their actions. But Baskin-Sommers found that there’s more to their minds than it seems.

Most of us mentalize automatically. From infancy, other minds involuntarily seep into our own. The same thing, apparently, happens less strongly in psychopaths. By studying the Connecticut inmates, Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues, Lindsey Drayton and Laurie Santos, showed that these people can deliberately take another person’s perspective, but on average, they don’t automatically do so to the extent that most other people do. “This is the first time we’re seeing evidence that psychopaths don’t have this automatic ability that most of us have,” Baskin-Sommers says.

[...]

The U.S. prison system doesn’t assess psychopathy at intake, so Baskin-Sommers administered a standard test herself to 106 male inmates from the Connecticut prison. Of them, 22 proved to be psychopaths, 28 were not, and the rest fell in a gray zone.

[...]

The psychopaths proved to be “glib, narcissistic, and conniving,” she adds. “They can be aggressive, and they like to tell us gruesome details of murders, I think to shock us. But it’s not like that all the time. They do a lot of impression management.”

After assessing the 106 volunteers, she then gave them a computer-based task. They saw a picture of a human avatar in prison khakis, standing in a room, and facing either right or left. There were either two red dots on the wall in front of the avatar, or one dot in front of them and one dot behind them. Their job was to verify how many dots either they or the avatar could see.

Normally, people can accurately say how many dots the avatar sees, but they’re slower if there are dots behind the avatar. That’s because what they see (two dots) interferes with their ability to see through the avatar’s eyes (one dot). This is called egocentric interference. But they’re also slower to say how many dots they can see if that number differs from the avatar’s count. This shows how readily humans take other perspectives: Volunteers are automatically affected by the avatar’s perspective, even when it hurts their own performance. This is called altercentric interference.

Baskin-Sommers found that the psychopathic inmates showed the usual level of egocentric interference — that is, their own perspective was muscling in on the avatar’s. But they showed much less altercentric interference than the other inmates — the avatar’s perspective wasn’t messing with their own, as it would for most other people.

This sounds a bit like another condition:

Other groups of people also show differences in their theory of mind. For example, in one study, Frith asked people to predict where a girl might search for a marble that had been moved without her knowledge. The onlookers knew the marble’s whereabouts, so could they override their own knowledge to step into the girl’s shoes? Eye-tracking software revealed that neurotypical adults look at the same place the girl would, but people with Asperger’s syndrome are less likely to. They don’t seem to spontaneously anticipate others’ actions. “It is a bit worrying if [Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues] are proposing the very same underlying mechanism to explain callousness in psychopathy that we used previously to explain communication problems in autism, albeit based on a different test,” Frith says. “These are very different conditions, after all.”

Let’s talk about bombs for a minute

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Let’s talk about bombs for a minute, Greg Ellifritz suggests:

This week, a Utah high school student was arrested after he attempted to detonate a large backpack bomb in his school. Luckily, the bomb malfunctioned and the school was evacuated before anyone was hurt.

Those of you who have taken my “Response to a Terrorist Bombing” class might remember how I discussed that in worldwide terrorist events, the trend is moving more and more towards combining bombs and guns in the attack.

If you find yourself in the middle of a mass shooting, you must be prepared for the coming bomb blasts. If you survive a bomb blast, you must be looking out for people with guns shooting up the evacuation site. That’s simply the reality of modern terrorist attacks worldwide.

This particular incident had only a bombing component (likely because it was committed by a lone high school student without any true support of a terrorist network). I predict we will see more and more of these as well.

After the Las Vegas concert shooting and the Florida school shooting, people are becoming more conscious of the potential carnage that can be inflicted by a deranged gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a lot of ammunition. There are currently multiple social and political pressures being applied to limit the purchase and/or possession of these rifles. While I don’t personally think that tactic will be effective at reducing mass casualties in a terrorist attack, I believe it will become harder and harder to legally acquire semi-automatic rifles in the future.

What will the terrorist resort to if he can’t get a rifle and lots of ammo? You guessed it…bombs. Look at terrorist attacks worldwide. In countries with very strict gun control, we see terrorists use bombs more often. Bombs are easy to make and can cause massive casualties if placed in the right location at the right time. Bombs also bring a disproportionate amount of media attention, which is exactly what the killers and terrorists crave.

If you predict that semi-automatic rifles will become harder to legally acquire in the future, then you have to be prepared for more terrorist bombing incidents.

Be careful what you wish for.