OSD 254: Favorites from 2023
The most-read OSD newsletters from the past year.
Here are your top ten favorite OSD newsletters from 2023, by number of views. Use these as a refresher on key concepts and as a go-to when you’re looking for articles to share with gun-curious people.
Make 2024 a great year, everyone.
“This time it’s different” is a question of thresholds. So if it were just a matter of figuring out where to put the threshold (for a ban), you’d expect people to get it right sometimes and wrong sometimes. You would not expect them to get it wrong (i.e. make a prediction about technological catastrophe that fails to come true) every time. So there must be something else going on.
Where “this time it’s different” goes wrong is that it treats a question of values as a question of thresholds. If the value is “technological freedom is on net good”, then there’s no threshold to draw — the value already rejected the concept of a threshold, no matter where it’s drawn. That doesn’t mean that all uses of technological freedom are good, just that on net things will turn out better if tech is allowed to advance.
We’d argue that gun rights is a subclass of techno-optimism. Why? Well, gun rights is the belief that as you make small arms increasingly effective and make access to them freer, the benefits will accrue to positive uses faster than destructive ones.
“Why would somebody want to take this really dangerous thing and bring it into their lives?” is the animating principle here. Rather than an open-minded inquiry into why people do something, it’s a baffled inquest into why they’d do something so dumb.
Ironically, that last paragraph about the study’s results also explains why this was the mode of inquiry. Guns are scary if you’re not used to them. So of course gun culture seems to outsiders like primitive superstition — if your only cultural exposure to guns is action movies and news headlines, there’s no reason guns wouldn’t be scary. You’ve never been exposed to them as anything other than “this really dangerous thing”, so why would you think it could be any other way?
Chesterton’s point isn’t so hidebound. The parable of the fence isn’t an argument to fight progress, it’s an argument to seek knowledge. “Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” I.e. tear up the old stuff, but only once you know what you’re talking about. Essentially, Chesterton was warning about the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The case for gun rights is pretty simple: if someone’s trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them. And by extension, you’re the person who’s in the best position to say how to stop them….
That’s the sort of illegible local knowledge that Chesterton warns would-be fence destroyers not to miss. The nature of top-down plans is to run roughshod over the actual needs and actual experience of the people closest to the ground. And not necessarily because that’s even the intent. It’s just a knowledge problem — even for an all-powerful, perfectly benevolent central decision-maker, there isn’t a way to gather all the local, on-the-ground facts to make the right decision.
… the ATF might be right or wrong in any particular instance, but it’s a lot more powerful if you can establish that they aren’t allowed to have an opinion at all. Debating the object-level wisdom of their rules grants the premise that they have the power to make the rules.
If you believe that gun rights are just a corollary to a general right to self-govern, then you might also believe in little-to-no limit on the kinds of weapons the government can tell you you’re not allowed to own. And if that’s your belief, then the view that prevails in courts today — that gun rights are only about personal self-defense against non-governmental criminals — seems like it keeps you stuck in a local maximum.
You’d think the noteworthy thing is for government lawyers to show up to court with data that would fail a middle school stats class. That’s actually the normal part. The noteworthy thing is that a judge didn’t allow it.
Even a clearly innocent person (let alone a defendant who isn’t squeaky clean) would be crazy not to take that deal. And that’s the way it shakes out in real life — 98% of federal convictions are obtained through plea bargains. On paper there’s a right to a trial by jury. But in practice, 98% of convicts (including, now, Larry Vickers) were extorted into giving up that right. (A more famous, non-gun-related example is the celebrity college admissions scandal. Lori Laughlin of Full House fame initially refused to plead guilty, insisting on her right to a jury trial. Prosecutors then retaliated by filing additional charges against her punishable by up to 45 years in prison. Lo and behold, she then “voluntarily” forfeited her right in exchange for getting just two months in prison.)
The overall argument in the title — “A Dangerous American Institution: The Free and Untrammeled Revolver” — is that American gun ownership is unregulated and aberrant compared to the rest of the world.
And lastly there’s the implicit argument that the problem is one type of particularly scary firearm.
This is a gun newsletter, and that was a lot of talk about AI … but was it really about AI? Replace each occurrence of “AI” in those paragraphs with “guns” and everything applies just as well to the gun-related topics we normally talk about. And as Sinofsky points out, this is really a point about technology generally.
This week’s links
From The Reload:
Prospective Hawaiian gun buyers and carriers received an unpleasant gift from their local officials this week when gun permitting was effectively cut off in the state. The failure of localities to set up a recertification process for safety instructors has left applicants for purchase permits and carry licenses without a way to obtain the classes required to complete the process. And that issue could persist for weeks or even months.
Interesting facts from his life:
He was 52 years old when he designed the first Glock pistol. He had no prior experience in firearms, having started out in business making curtain rods and then Austrian military knives. He designed the gun with an injection molding machine he’d bought to make knife handles and sheaths.
Two-thirds of American law enforcement agencies use Glock handguns.
He was the victim of an attempted murder in 1999. It was arranged by Glock’s close financial adviser, Charles Ewert. The hit did not go according to plan:
Lured into a dimly lit garage in Luxembourg by his colleague Charles Ewert, the Austrian Glock stopped to look at a sports car at Ewert’s suggestion. Suddenly, a massive masked man leaped from behind and smashed a rubber mallet into Glock's skull. Ewert fled to the stairwell. “I am a coward”, he later told Forbes. With Glock off balance, the attacker landed another crushing blow. “I was fighting for my life”, recalls Glock, 73, during a rare interview with the press.
Springing up on legs toned by miles of daily swimming, Glock thrust his enormous fist into his assailant’s eye socket. As the would-be assassin staggered, Glock pounded again, knocking out a few of the man’s teeth. The bloodied attacker staggered, then collapsed on top of Glock “with his arms outstretched like Jesus Christ”, according to John Paul Frising, Luxembourg’s deputy attorney general, who brought attempted murder charges against the attacker, the French-born Jacques (Spartacus) Pecheur, 67.
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