Cars are a useful analogy: response to critics


Gun control advocates have attempted to argue that the appeal to motor vehicle deaths when talking about gun deaths is illegitimate. I’ve responded here:


Thanks for posting. Can’t wait to read through it in a bit.


Man, so much here. I’m still processing it. It’s really good, though. I hadn’t seen the car thing framed this way before.

Also, love this:

It’s not just MVDs that would be dramatically cut by a hard 25MPH limit, but potentially catastrophically lethal externalities like climate change would be affected.


Consider also the polar opposite: cars that spontaneously explode on the slightest contact with another car. Drivers under these conditions would also likely be quite safe due to the certainty of death for any mistake.

Most human activities are like this; fatalities are maximized when the activity is inherently dangerous bit not to the extent that ANY mistake leads to death. The likelihood of death is a bell curve; minimal when even a dullard can perform the task and live and also minimal when the task is so dangerous that extradorinary precautions are taken (granted some activities are so dangerous that no orecautions can minimize the risk; I’m speaking in broad generalities here).

Unfortunately, a large number of activities tend to fall in the middle of this bell curve. Dangerous enough that the probability of death is significant but not so dangerous that people engaged in the activity are preoccupied with policies and procedures to minimuze the risk.


Thanks for the feedback, Jon.

Gopher: Interesting observation. I hadn’t thought of that. I’ve been trying to think through various reasons why our society has such a visceral reaction to gun deaths, but not MVDs. I think part of it is that evil or malicious intent is involved in the former but, usually, not in the latter. We have an innate drive to want to conquer evil, but are less motivated to push back against accidents which seem outside of our control. (There is some interesting ground to be explored here about how much the “evil of man” is outside of our control.) But another part of it might be the notion that we are all voluntary participants in the activity which contributes to MVDs, whereas an in-group / out-group sort of tribalism has been constructed among those who participate in “gun culture” and those who don’t but are it’s victims.


I think a certain amount of this has always been a component of this debate, but it has only come to the fore recently. For most of American history, there was no “gun culture” – that’s a hindsight construction. There was a military culture and a hunting culture and a ranching culture and various other cultures that happened to feature firearms, but “gun culture” is a modern invention.

It’s also an invention that the NRA has heartily participated in creating and shaping, as the aforementioned cultures have declined over the years

Anyway, my point is this: the tribal “gun people vs. non-gun people” thing is new, and it has really picked up steam after the election because it has now been plugged into the “red vs. blue” culture war. And again, the NRA is very much to blame for doing this. In fact, turning guns into a “red vs. blue” issue is probably the one place where the NRA and the Bloomberg groups are 100% on the same page and are working together toward a common goal.

I’ve written a lot more about this elsewhere on an email list, and will put that stuff into this forum as a separate thread.


Related: Gun culture: what it is, what it was, & why I no longer make appeals to it


I have a slightly different take on the “guns vs. cars” comparison. Taken from my Twitter feed.


I think you made great points in relation to that specific aspect of the “cars & guns” side of the debate. In my blog post, I’m considering the car analogy as a rejoinder by the pro-2A crowd–where the focus is primarily on MVDs. There is no single gun control argument and car-rejoinder even within that framework and I think your response shows that there are even broader frameworks or focuses (where you’re responding to someone focusing on the regulatory aspect).


Thanks @JohnRB, key quote IMO from your writeup:

Our society seems to be unwilling to consider regulations and safety features on cars that would limit our access to them or their benefits, even when those regulations would significantly reduce MVDs.

It goes to the question of skin-in-the-game on these things. When people have to personally bear the burden of a car regulation, they overwhelmingly oppose it. If the burden falls on others, or as in the case of various safety features when the burden is either non-obvious or non-existent, they’re for it.

Reminded me of the Slate Star Codex essay “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup”.