OSD 179: Where order comes from
The AWB hearing in Congress last week included this exchange. The basic outline:
Congressperson says that a pistol brace is functionally equivalent to a bump stock. (“This stabilizing brace, when coupled with a buffer tube, operates as a bump stock.”)
Different congressperson points out the trivially googleable incorrectness.
Original congressperson doubles down, and is joined by a second congressperson who repeats the same claim.
Here’s a video (pardon the clickbait title):
It’s perfectly normal for a person to know nothing about plenty of things. But it’s much less common to be proud of one’s lack of knowledge. So when it comes to guns, why is this the rule instead of the exception?
If you think of it like “let’s figure out if gun rights are a net positive or net negative”, this makes no sense. The incentive would be to learn all the technical details you could, to be an expert on all aspects of the field. So performative ignorance would be hard to explain.
But if instead of an open “are guns noxious?” question, someone’s starting point is “guns are noxious, now how do we stop that?”, this starts to make a lot more sense. Now technical details become dangerous, not helpful. The whole point is that guns are inherently noxious. So it would be game theoretically stupid to learn about them, because that knowledge can only threaten the premise. A rational actor would avoid gun knowledge as much as possible.
One bit of supporting anecdata here: why don’t gun control orgs make fudds the main spokespeople? They employ them, but they’re marginal figures or people brought in on book tours, not the leaders of the orgs. In principle it should be effective to put a technically knowledgeable fudd front and center. Establish bona fides, then push restrictions. So why don’t groups try that?
Well, two reasons:
Other than the occasional ATF agent, it turns out to be really hard to find people with deep technical knowledge on guns who in fact support the specifics of what these orgs advocate.
Technical knowledge is at best neutral and more likely only hurts the premise that is the orgs’ entire reason for existing — “guns are noxious, now how do we stop that”. It’s foolish to pull on a thread that demotes that from an axiom to a mere open question.
So if technical knowledge is disincentivized, what's prized instead? Naturally, lack of it!
“Shoulder thing that goes up” and “a pistol brace acts as a bump stock” aren’t failed attempts to persuade. They’re successful attempts to signal “I’m so committed to our core premise that I’m willing to get roasted for it“. (Thomas Massie even alludes to this dynamic in the video above: “I urge [Mr. Cicilline] to get Wikipedia up as soon as possible. The internet is about to educate him.“)
Now this makes more sense. The platonic politician in these cases isn’t trying to persuade opponents of how much he knows. He’s trying to persuade supporters of how little he knows — because that’s what his incentives are when the topic is something haram.
A possible objection here: “Wait, I support [flavor of gun control]. Maybe I’m not an expert on every little thing, but it sounds like you’re saying that instead of having valid beliefs, I’m either dumb or naive. That’s neither nice nor true.”
Totally fair. As an individual you are smart and savvy. But the question isn’t your incentives, it’s the incentives of the people making these kinds of speeches. Their incentives are to signal commitment to the ingroup, and distance from the outgroup. That’s it. That’s what brings in donations. (And yes, there is absolutely an identical dynamic among certain gun rights groups.) Technical knowledge is useful up to the point where it lets you sound passably informed to the ingroup, and then no further.
This isn’t even a question of these politicians’ actual beliefs. When incentives and desires are in conflict, incentives will eventually win. Because either you’ll act according to the systemic incentives, or you’ll be replaced by someone who does.
Another objection: “You’re a gun rights group, you’re not neutral. Aren’t you starting from ‘guns are not noxious, so now how do we spread gun rights?’”
Yes, good point. We have a philosophical/moral/social opinion that makes us gun rights folks, not neutral 3rd parties.
But incentives determine outcomes. The question is about the incentives of seeking — or avoiding — detailed technical knowledge on the subject. We are lucky (and this may just be cosmic happenstance) that the game theory shakes out such that gun rights benefit from the spread of knowledge. The more people learn about guns, the more they tend to see things differently from what they might have been taught to believe. Or, more to the point, taught to fear.
There’s a related thing that emerged from these hearings. The apparent starting point is “guns are noxious”, but in practice, that’s “guns are noxious in regular people’s hands, but the police and military are ok”. Cognitive dissonance and real-world counterexamples aside, this is the idea that guns are dangerous, dangerous things can only be made safe through centralized control, therefore guns must be centrally controlled.
Elisjsha Dicken’s heroism is already famous, and it bears repeating as an example of how order emerges from decentralized control. For a centralized system to work, every piece of it has to work. That’s how you get the scope creep of “there are a lot of murders in <city> → let’s ban guns in <city> → guns are still showing up → that just means we need to ban guns nationally → guns are still showing up → so we just need to ban more types of guns and magazines → guns are still showing up → let’s make banks and credit card companies deplatform gun sellers → ….”
The centralizing worldview turns a local murder problem into something whose solution needs to be a national effort at all layers of society. Because if the foundational premise is that order comes from centralized control, then the answer to any lack of order is obvious: more centralized control. Isaac Botkin explains this ratchet well on the latest T.Rex Talk episode, “Putting the ‘Total’ in Totalitarianism”.
By contrast, the idea that order emerges from decentralized control is inherently fault-tolerant. It has to be, because the system needs to automatically route around any parts of it that fail to work. TCP/IP, for example, assumes some amount of packet loss. In fact, efficiently dealing with packet loss is one of the main reasons that TCP/IP, rather than competing protocols, became the foundational infrastructure of the internet.
Unlike a centralized model, in the decentralized model of order, you don’t need to force every Elisjsha Dicken to show up. You only need to get out of the way and let one show up.
This week’s links
10 shots at 40 yards, from concealment in 15 seconds. Eight hits or better is a passing score.
AmmoLand with solid reporting on how the FBI rung up some poor sap for overstaying a student visa then coerced him into informing on some other poor sap for putting a stock on a pistol.
Study in the European Economic Review:
In terms of magnitude, a one standard deviation increase in shooting news raises mass shootings by approximately 73% of a standard deviation. We then explore potential mechanisms, broadly delineating (i) the ideation of murder, (ii) fame seeking, and (iii) behavioral contagion. The number of murders in general remains orthogonal to shooting news, and mass shootings are not more likely on days with predictable news pressure (e.g., during the Olympics or the Super Bowl). However, mass shootings are more likely after anniversaries of the most deadly historical mass shootings. Taken together, these results lend support to a behavioral contagion mechanism following the public salience of mass shootings.
From June 23-July 11, carry permit applications in Maryland are up 772% versus the same period last year
Bruen has entered the chat. Also, some interesting county-level variations:
Meanwhile, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said his office will drop charges of wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit against people who could not get a license solely because they did not meet the “good and substantial reason” standard.
McCarthy said he believes it would be unfair to prosecute those individuals. He said he feels confident that’s going to affect “a pretty small number” of cases.
In Baltimore County, Assistant State’s Attorney Allan Webster, chief of the Firearms Unit, said he expects the opinion to affect the application and review process for wear and carry permits more than pending cases — if any at all.
OSD office hours
If you’re a new gun owner, thinking about becoming one, or know someone who is, come to OSD office hours. It’s a free 30-minute video call with an OSD team member to ask any and all your questions.
Like what we’re doing? You can support us at the link below.
And the best kind of support is to rock our merch and spread the word. Top-quality hats, t-shirts, and patches with a subtle OSD flair.
Thanks for reading Open Source Defense! Subscribe to get a new post every Monday.