quinta-feira, 20 de dezembro de 2012

Temos o direito de portar armas?

Por conta dos eventos trágicos ocorridos em um colégio de Newport, o blog do NYTimes The Stone propôs uma rodada de discussão entre políticos e acadêmicos a respeito do "direito" que um cidadão norte-americano teria de portar armas. O controle estatal de armas de fogo é uma violação dos direitos individuais ou uma medida necessária para o bem-estar coletivo? Os primeiros artigos encontram-se listados abaixo:

- Firmin Debrabander: " The Freedom of an Armed Society"

- Michael Boylan: "The Weapons Continuum"

The Weapons Continuum
by Michael Boylan

How do people justify their ownership of guns?

In the outcry that follows nearly every case of mass gun violence in the United States, there is nearly always a fixation on “the right to bear arms” clause in the Bill of Rights.  There is however, a specific human rights claim that justifies gun ownership that should instead be the focus of this debate: self-defense. 

“Protection from unwarranted bodily harm” is a basic right that we all can claim.  It makes sense that people should be able to possess a weapon appropriate to that end.  But what sort of weapon? There are two important concepts that can help us make this determination: (a) weapon damage coefficient — basically, the extent of damage that the use of a particular weapon is designed to cause; and (b) minimum force necessary to produce a result — that result being protection against bodily harm.

Trauma surgeons I’ve spoken with on this matter report to me that among those admitted to intensive care, for the most part, are not those who have suffered from weapons with a low damage coefficient: fists and small percussive objects (like sticks, books, china plates and thin drinking glasses).  These patients have a very high recovery rate.  Those who are treated for knife wounds are next — they have a lower recovery rate. Then come those admitted for injuries caused by larger percussive objects are next (like thick bottles, bats and chairs). Then there are the firearms injuries.

With firearms, the weapon damage coefficient makes a jump in kind.  Death and permanent injury rates are significantly higher.  When the firearms are rapid-fire automatic weapons (like assault weapons) not only does the rate get even higher but so does the collateral damage (more people killed or injured aside from the intended victim). This trend continues with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.  No longer is one able to contain the target to a single person, but the target will almost by necessity include a score or more of victims (and considerably more property damage). Next are anti-aircraft hand-held devices, and finally, if one continues on the weapons continuum there is the nuclear bomb.  Depending upon where it is detonated it could kill as many as 6 million people, in one of the world’s most populous cities.

Weapons exist on a continuum.  Some weapons advocates seem intent on moving along the continuum in order to possess weapons of higher and higher damage coefficient.  Their rationale is that the bad guys will have more powerful weapons and so must I in order to defend myself.  The logical end of such a scenario is the destruction of humankind. Since no rational person wants that, everyone must, upon pain of logical contradiction of what it means to be human (an agent seeking purposeful action to achieve what he thinks is good), agree that there must be weapons control somewhere on the continuum.

Weapons control is a given.  No one can logically claim that everyone should be able to possess nuclear weapons.  Thus everyone must agree to the concept of weapons control somewhere on the continuum.  This point is logically necessary.  The only question is where on the continuum of weapons do we begin banning weapons?  And though, as we see in the case of state nuclear proliferation, the fact that rogue countries may develop nuclear weapons does not deter us from trying to stop each new potential member in the ultimate annihilation club.  Among citizens of any country, the fact that weapons bans are hard to enforce is not an argument against trying to enforce them.  Moral “oughts” (in a deontological sense) are not determined by what is easy but by what is right.

Second, we have the “minimal force dictum,” which says that instead of the escalating scenario set out above, individuals should always employ the minimum force necessary to deter a threat, and that they should first depend upon law enforcement (in developed societies) to protect them.

The first condition refers to stopping an attack with words or fleeing the scene if no weapon is necessary.  If a fight is going to occur and you can stop it with your fists, then they should be used.  If a stick is needed, then use it only so long as one is in jeopardy.  The problem occurs when one cannot thwart an attack with these natural means.  Should people resort to knives or even guns?  For the sake of clarity, let us call these situations extreme. There might be some personal prudential advantages to using weapons like guns for personal protection, but there are alternatively some severe dangers to public health.

This leads to the second condition: people should first depend upon law enforcement to protect themselves.  What stands behind this provision is very important: the real good of having a social structure in which individuals give up certain individual liberties in order to become citizens of a society.  When one leaves the state of nature, then one relinquishes the right personally to inflict punishment upon wrongdoers.  This right is given over to the society (the sovereign — which in a democracy is the people; see John Locke).

One condition for a citizen entering a society is the trust that societal institutions will protect her and run the society fairly. If one is unhappy with the current state of affairs, the legitimate venue is the ballot box and not a rifle or some other weapon.  The rule of law dictates that within a society we rely upon our police and legal system to make us secure.  The inclination to resort to gun ownership to do this is really a form of vigilantism.  This worldview arises when people seek to exercise state of nature authority when they have left the state of nature.  This is really a form of the free rider mentality and works contrary to the rule of law.  This vigilante worldview ends up making us all less secure.

I agree that the world is a dangerous place, but the greatest threats occur because of viruses and bacteria.  There is a greater cause to be afraid of drug-resistant tuberculosis than there is being shot while on the way to work.  There is also statistically more cause to be afraid of driving on the freeways of the United States than there is of being a potential victim of a criminal wielding a weapon.  The reason for this failure in accurate risk assessment is that people have false conceptions of individual dangers and what is and what is not in their power.

This inability to adequately assess risk and socially responsible avoidance strategies causes irrational response reactions.  This is the acceleration on the continuum of weapon damage coefficients mentioned above.  There must be a limit.  The question is how to draw it and how to interpret the minimum force dictum.

I have argued elsewhere that the imagined safety of owning a gun is illusionary for most ordinary people. Part of this illusion concerns the dual concepts of: (a) ease of use, balanced by (b) apparent ease of effective use.  These are not the same; and because of this much confusion results.  Under the ease of use criterion, most low caliber handguns are easy to use.  You point and pull the trigger.  Low caliber handguns have virtually no kick-back.  This ease of use makes them the weapon for choice for teenage gangs and the non-organized-crime-drug sub-culture —when was the last time you heard of a drive-by knifing?

But the ease of use is not the same as ease of effective use.  Those drive-by shootings often miss the real target and kill bystanders.  This is because it is not easy to be an effective pistol shooter.  Unless one regularly puts in practice time at a firing range and engages in emergency drills, the risk of being ineffective with one’s firearm and causing injury to innocents is significant.

A colleague of mine in our criminal justice program, Michael Bolton (who was an Arlington County police officer for more than 20 years), told me that even experienced police officers need constant practice or they will not be allowed to carry guns.  He told me that often experienced officers thought that such check-ups were not necessary, but Bolton assured me that the regulations were there for a fact-based reason: guns carry such a high damage coefficient, and are so difficult to use effectively — particularly in emergency situations — that they should only be in the hands of people competent to carry them. This reality of the difficulty of effective use is often dismissed by the general public because of the simpleease of use.  Most ordinary citizens do not credit the need for constant training and practice in order to be responsible gun owners.

How many civilians who wish to carry guns would submit to semi-annual range reviews and emergency drills in order to keep their licenses?  Without such continuing education and documented competency, a gun owner is very likely to falsely believe that he is safe and protected (because of ease of use and high damage coefficient) when he really is not (because guns require a high skill level in order to be used effectively).  Those who fall short of such accountability standards are a public health threat that is more dangerous than their constructed worldview of fear.