Tuesday September 02, 2014

Let's not get waylaid by emotion over facts

Several days ago a Kamloops Daily News reader opined that 158 deaths in Canada (by guns) was 158 too many. I agree. But the writer's inference that by making guns illegal we would reduce that number is sophomoric. It misses entirely the basis for resolving all issues, which are firstly, “define the problem.” If you don't take this initial step you will almost certainly wind up with meaningless conclusions.

For example, teenagers in Seattle are four times more likely to commit suicide with handguns than those living in Vancouver, a city with similar demographics, which since 1935 has had much stricter controls on handguns.

Superficial thinkers would immediately posit that Seattle could reduce teen suicides by emulating Vancouver's restrictions on guns, but in so doing they would have completely missed the point and solved nothing! Rational thinkers would dig further and discover that teen suicides per 100,000 in the two cities are virtually identical, and that in fact, more often than not Vancouver's rate has been the higher of the two.

Superficial thinkers would then jump to the conclusion that it is in fact Vancouver, and not Seattle, that should legislate new laws, including:

* ban the sale of rope to teenagers,

* forbid the use of natural gas in residences with teenagers,

* forbid teens to use the walkways on city bridges,

* forbid the parents of teens to use prescription drugs,

* forbid the installation of bathtubs and cutting utensils sharper than butter knives in homes with teens, etc.

Rational thinkers would diligently review these data and likely identify the need to redefine the problem as being: 'Why do teens commit suicide and what can we do to prevent it?'

In point of fact teachers have already taken the lead here, emphasizing for example that the mere mention of suicide is a red flag — many teens express their blackest thoughts by understatement. And yes, from a teen's perspective, a boil on the tip of his or her nose on grad night is probably very daunting, absent the counselling of a caring adult.

As I recall the writer did acknowledge that more people are killed or maimed by knives than are killed by guns, but attributed this to the fact that knives are more prevalent - does it really matter? Hijacked airplanes, suicide bombs, alcohol, road rage, and arson, (in addition to knives and guns), have all been used by sick individuals for whom murder is seen as being an option.

Also, like guns, all of the above have caused accidental deaths. But banning gasoline, aircraft, dynamite, and such isn't the answer.

The real problem is more likely, “How do we stop terrorism, domestic violence, drug wars, bar fights, turf wars, merciless dictatorships, booze, drugs, and plain old stupidity?”

These issues beg the disciplined four-step process of:

1) define the problem

2) consider and document all of the alternatives

3) consider and document the likely consequences of every alternative

4) select and implement the most progressive and/or least harmful approach

It won't be easy, and most of us won't live to see the day it comes about, but we can and should get serious, (and not emotional), about resolving these issues. It's time to start!

And let's not get waylaid by emotion over facts. For example it is a fact that New York City epitomizes the fruitlessness of gun control — a 14 year-old kid in the Bronx can build a .22 calibre gun with a ball point pen, a rubber band and two inches of heavy gauge wire. The price goes up if you want the real thing, but the black market doesn't do background checks, give receipts, pay taxes or id suppliers. And from the kid in the Bronx or Harlem to the five families of Mafiosi, New Yorkers do not lack firearms — unless of course one includes honest and rational law-abiding citizens.



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