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Bullet Points

As we begin 2017, there are already several dispiriting stories of shootings. An infant was killed in his crib by a random shot. A firearms advocate was accidentally killed while letting a teen relative hold one of his guns. A New Years reveler stepped out to his host’s front stoop and was hit by a random bullet fragment that penetrated his skull. A woman was shot in the eye at a firing range, and later died. A young police officer was killed serving a protection from abuse order – his troubled killer was shot by police soon afterwards. An old man with dementia was shot by police because he had something in his pockets – it was a crucifix.

We haven’t had a mass shooting yet [Update 20170106: Mass shooting at Ft Lauderdale airport, 5 dead, 8 injured] but dozens of people have been killed or wounded on the street, in a park, in a car, in a house.

Pundits go around and around assigning the blame for gun violence. A popular book claimed that more guns would lead to less crime, but it seems clear that more guns have not only led to more shootings, intentional and accidental, by gun owners, but also to more panicky shootings by police who are all too aware that, A: any of the people they encounter may be carrying weapons and, B: they are unlikely to be severely punished for a bad shooting.

So I’m just wondering when it will be my turn.

Update 20170106: Over at ScienceBlogs, The Pump Handle just reposted a Jan 2016 article: Higher gun ownership rates up the risk of a woman being murdered

In studying data that spanned from 1981 to 2013, researchers found that firearms were used in about 62 percent of homicides. More than 78 percent of all homicides involved an offender who was an intimate partner, family member or other acquaintance. In all, a non-stranger perpetrated more than three-quarters of the firearm-related homicides studied. But while men were more likely to be killed with a firearm, women were more likely to be killed with a gun by someone they knew.

The study found no evidence that greater availability of guns protects women from being killed. On the contrary, the study suggests that greater availability of guns translates into a higher risk that a woman will be killed by someone she knows.

“The data is just not consistent with the argument that having a high prevalence of firearms is protective against stranger homicide,” Siegel told me. “But for women, the level of gun ownership in a state is one of the primary factors in predicting her risk of being killed by a firearm.”

Thought Experiment

In The Elbonian Zombie Virus, Scott Adams asks what should happen if one percent of a given nationality of people, his cartoon Elbonians, were infected with a virus that turned them into zombie killers.

There is no cure for the Elbonian Zombie Virus. So what would world health organizations do?

For starters, they would quarantine the entire nation of Elbonia to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all uninfected Elbonians but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.

Now here’s the interesting part. What is the functional difference between the Elbonian Zombie Virus and radical islamic terrorism?

So, Adams established an analogy between a medical quarantine and Trump’s idea to keep Muslims out of America. I’m sure that will please Trump supporters, and doing so would probably reduce the number of Americans killed by Muslim terrorists, which is around three dozen per year. But it wouldn’t do anything about the three hundred other American deaths by non-Muslim terrorists. We’d also have to quarantine Christians, Jews, Sikhs and even atheists. So the Amish would be running things.

But let’s extend Scott’s thought experiment to other dangerous groups, for example, gun owners. Even though some talk about it first, no one knows for sure which gun owners will actually and suddenly start shooting innocent victims – or themselves. No one knows which gun owners will leave their weapons in reach of children. We don’t even know which police officers will start shooting innocent victims.

How would Adams’ approach work against firearms enthusiasts??

So what should world law enforcement organizations do?

For starters, they should quarantine gun owners to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all responsible gun owners but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.

Effectively ending the Second Amendment would not please Trump enthusiasts, but it would reduce the number of suicides, murders and accidental deaths that currently number about thirty-two thousand per year. It would also reduce the eighty-five thousand non-fatal gun injuries every year.

In other words, discriminating against gun owners would save far more lives and makes just as much sense as discriminating against Muslims – which makes no sense at all.

Shooting Zombies

I haven’t watched all the zombie shows, but I watched Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Omega Man (1971) a long time ago, and Shaun of the Dead (2004) a few years ago. A month ago we watched The Last Man on Earth (1964), an old Vincent Price flick in which the infected folk were a lot like vampires. All these films were loosely based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (1954). Matheson wrote part of Last Man‘s screenplay, and Living Dead and Omega Man were each influenced by their predecessors.

Matheson’s vampire-zombies didn’t move slowly, didn’t stumble around, did use firearms and other hand weapons, and actually replaced uninfected humans on Earth, but most zombie films and tv shows feature strong but slow, thick-headed zombies that are more like the Hollywood mummy than the Hollywood vampire. Omega Man’s “Family” were fairly spry, but chose not to use technology, which made life possible for Charlton Heston and his new friends.

The underlying morality of zombie flicks is that zombies are no longer human, and that you are doing them a service by killing them even more – which usually involves separating the body from the brain, or destroying the brain. Since film zombies rarely use firearms or other weapons on the uninfected, the premise allows for a great deal of weapon brutality by otherwise sympathetic characters towards hordes of sick, but dangerous, strangers – some of whom may be former loved ones. (Blam! “Sorry about that, Uncle Bob!”).

Reading the news, however, it occurs to me that Hollywood could breathe new life into the genre by making films about armed zombies that shoot unarmed, uninfected people. We actually are infested by zombies – gun zombies – who carry guns and shoot uninfected people, each other or even themselves. Many gun zombies give their children guns and then act surprised when they shoot another child. One gun zombie was shot when her child reached into her purse and found a gun; another shot herself in the eye as she was adjusting her pistol in a brassiere holster.

Gun zombies don’t stumble or shuffle or moan, but they are greatly influenced by their firearms, and do spend a great deal of time preoccupied with “situational awareness” and the Federalist Papers. Situational awareness is the task of deciding how to best shoot anyone you meet in case they try to shoot you. I suppose it saves on small talk. Often they train by firing at pictures of movie zombies, or black zombies, or women zombies.

Sometimes the influence of owning a weapon becomes too much and a gun zombie will snap and shoot someone at random, or maybe just their ex-wife and kids. Other times they spend a lot of time planning to shoot as many people as possible, after which they will shoot themselves for good measure.

Some gun zombies wear uniforms, and are essentially allowed to shoot uninfected people, or even uninfected dogs, if they feel threatened. Not surprisingly they often do just that.

The only way to stop a gun zombie is to separate the body from the firearm. That, however, has become increasingly difficult because many non-zombies are convinced that guns will protect them from gun zombies. Buying more guns, of course, just leads to more gun-zombies, but no one seems to realize they are infected even when a bullet is heading their way. Even worse, many legislators are deathly afraid of the powerful gun-zombie lobby.

All I need is a title, like The Last Unarmed Man on Earth, or Night of the Good Guys with Guns. The screenplay will practically write itself.

John and Eric

As I listen to reports that Eric Frein is wearing diapers, smoking Serbian cigarettes and generally having the time of his life eluding about a thousand pursuers in backwoods Pennsylvania, I can’t help but note the irony that after all the dark-skinned people shot by police for no good reason recently it was a white man who shot two state troopers, killing one, for no good reason.

A video reveals John Crawford III in a WalMart, picking out a pellet rifle styled to look like an assault rifle, then casually walking by other shoppers and talking on a cell phone with the rifle mostly pointed at the floor. He spent about a minute at the end of one otherwise unoccupied aisle when police armed with rifles – real rifles – rushed in and shot him without warning, killing him.

Many have noted that Crawford lived in an open carry state. In some open carry states, firearm enthusiasts have made a point of openly carrying real rifles or sidearms to stores and restaurants. Some establishments have asked them to leave, others welcome them. Some open carriers have been challenged by police, but so far none of them have been shot without warning. Except the black guy with the pellet gun. Had Eric Frein been carrying that pellet gun, does anyone doubt that he would have walked out of that WalMart alive?

Bang, You’re Dead. No, You’re Dead!

In, It’s Really Hard to Be a Good Guy With a Gun – an unusually serious article for Gawker – Adam Weinstein writes about the decision of Joseph Wilcox, who was shot to death by the woman member of the rightwing pair that shot two Las Vegas police officers in a diner and then proclaimed a revolution in a nearby WalMart.

[My wife] thought Wilcox should have been running in the other direction, seeking cover … I could see myself doing exactly the same thing in the same scenario. Armed with a handgun and licensed to carry it concealed on his person, Wilcox read the situation, saw Miller—male, armed, firing a long gun and yelling—and thought he had an opportunity to end the threat.

He did not notice the diminutive woman on the sidelines with shopping cart and the handbag. … Amanda came up behind him and pumped multiple shots into his ribs.

… My wife is the child of a cop who’s lost a partner in a shootout and had a lifetime of run-ins with wannabe civilian heroes. My father is one of those wannabe heroes. So am I. Dad and I have had our concealed carry permits for a combined 42 years. We love guns. We believe in self-reliance and self-protection.

But as the years go on and the country gets crazier—stirred up by paranoiacs, political hardliners, lobbyists, and simple gun-fetishists—I come nearer to my wife’s side. The universe of scenarios in which carrying a gun seems prudent or useful just keeps shrinking and shrinking, even as the legal freedom to wield personal firepower keeps expanding. …

I agree with the wife.

The neg

Some guy just shot a bunch of young people because girls wouldn’t sleep with him. Even though he tried the techniques prescribed by so-called PUA – PickUp Artists – he wasn’t getting anywhere with them. So he wrote a manifesto, then bought a gun and started shooting.

I did read about this PUA pickup technique a few years ago, and it basically involved the “neg” – putting women down, a little, so they’d try to impress you. Normally I wouldn’t expect that to work at all if not for certain women I have known that do always seem to gravitate to men who treat them badly. So perhaps it works on women with serious esteem issues. And perhaps it occasionally surprises attractive women who are used to being pursued.

PUA reminded me of something I read in Richard Feynman’s odd autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. I had assumed he was a born rogue, but later I read Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, by Lawrence Krauss, and discovered that Dick actually grew up as a nice young man, albeit brilliant, and married his childhood sweetheart Arline – even though she was clearly dying of tuberculosis.

I suppose that loss could throw a guy’s psyche for a loop. After Arline died, Feynman became known as a womanizer, even sleeping with a colleague’s wife, but after a bad marriage and some wild years settled into a long, happy marriage. But long before finding Gweneth, he found himself going to strip clubs, buying drinks for the girls but getting no action. He complained to the MC at the bar, who advised him:

“OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go.

“Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything — not even a package of cigarettes — until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.”

“Uh… you mean… you don’t… uh… you just ask them?”

“OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing — just one little something — before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.”

Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.

Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!”

After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.”

I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show.

A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?”

I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.”

A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long, before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant!

Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!”

Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long.

A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?”

I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a cafe, and she says, “I’ve got an idea — let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.”

The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the cafe and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the cafe, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!”

On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.”

I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You… are worse than a WHORE!”

“Whaddya mean?”

‘“You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!”

“Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!”

I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.”

She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off.

After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover.

He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.”

“What?”

“That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.”

“But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu —”

“It’s all right.”

Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.”

The master was right. So the lesson was terrific!

I want to interject here, a former girlfriend of mine told me about a conversation she was having with a stripper on DC Metro once. The woman told her, “Stripping is easy, you just have to hate men.” Presumably these 1950s era strippers did not all hate men, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were easy to manipulate. Feynman goes on:

When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said.

On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks — but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl?

We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?”

“Yes.”

So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.

Anyway, I never tried this myself, but rereading it again, I wonder if Dick was all that rigorous in testing his theory. It makes for a great story, and Feynman was a great raconteur. Maybe he was bragging a little. Or maybe he realized that the sort of girl that falls for this approach was not what he really wanted, and that the sort of guy that plays these games was not what he wanted to be.

Update 20140715: Apparently I was fairly charitable towards Feynman. Matthew R Francis and Janet D. Stemwedel consider his sexual behavior predatory and feel that it tarnishes his legacy.

 

Wild in the Streets

Several years ago, among her year-end predictions about depletion, Sharon Astyk – author of Depletion and Abundance and A Nation of Farmers – worried that there would be a rift between older and younger Americans. I found that hard to envision, but there have been a lot of teens shot and killed by older people in the last few months.

The highest profile case is that of Byron Smith, as summed up in the Seattle Times article, Minn. homeowner quickly convicted of killing 2 unarmed teens:

A Minnesota homeowner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday, with a jury taking about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense.

Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree who once set up security in American embassies for the U.S. State Department, shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

Smith’s attorney said he was fearful after previous burglaries. But prosecutors argued Smith waited in his basement and intended to kill the teens, with a setup so elaborate that lead prosecutor Pete Orput compared it to a deer stand. Their key evidence was an audio recording that captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith’s taunts as the teens died.

Although Smith has supporters, most people recoiled at the image of him putting down a badly-wounded eighteen-year-old girl. The Montana Standard covers a more recent and less sadistic case, Defense attorney on fatal shooting; Exchange students ‘garage hopping’:

[Markus] Kaarma, 29, is charged with deliberate homicide for shooting [German exchange student Diren] Dede twice in the early hours of April 27, after Dede and his companion entered Kaarma’s Grant Creek garage.

… [the companion, an Ecuadorian exchange student,] told police that he and Dede started “garage hopping” after they learned about the practice from other students at Big Sky High School. It’s unknown if Dede and his companion had burglarized Kaarma’s garage prior to the shooting.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ryan said Kaarma and his wife, Janelle Pflager, had been burglarized twice prior to the night of the fatal shooting and they felt uneasy, especially with their 10-month-old son in the home. …

The couple decided to set up a video camera and a motion sensor in their garage to detect an intruder. At 12:30 a.m., they were alerted to Dede’s presence in their garage.

Ryan claims “they watched in fear and terror” as the intruder entered the garage and headed toward the kitchen door. Kaarma, Ryan wrote, believed the intruder posed “an imminent threat” to himself and his family.

The 29-year-old former firefighter got up from the couch and grabbed a shotgun before exiting the front door and turning to face the dark garage. He fired four shots into the darkness, while his wife called 9-1-1.

There are rumors that Kaarma was under the influence of either alcohol or cannabis. Blood test results are forthcoming, but even sober, Kaarma faces a charge of felony deliberate homicide. And today the Sacramento Bee reports on another pair of dead teens:

Early Sunday around 12:18 a.m., Sacramento police responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a home in the 1000 block of Arcade Boulevard. “We get there within two minutes and we found the two suspects inside the house,” said {a police spokeswoman}.

Both of the teens had been shot, and Sacramento fire personnel pronounced them dead at the scene. … The two occupants of the home – a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s – were not hurt. Police did not release details on how Crider and Sambrano got inside the home. Nor did police say who exactly had shot the two suspects, though they portrayed it as a self-defense incident and said the shooting appeared to be justified based on a preliminary investigation.

OK, first of all, every one of the teens was very stupid, but now they will never get the chance to be older and wiser. I’ve never robbed a house, but I can’t say I’ve never been where I wasn’t supposed to be, and I’m glad I didn’t get shot when I was young and stupid.

Byron Smith was clearly trying to play at being Charles Bronson in Death Wish. Markus Kaarma didn’t go quite as far as Smith, but he did bait a trap and tried to play the gun-toting hero. As I’ve noted before I think the media and NRA are stoking a growing feeling that these difficult times justify vigilante actions – but teen burglars aren’t zombies and it isn’t legal to just shoot them in the head.

I can empathize with the older couple in Sacramento. I could see being retired in my house with my wife, and being terrified by intruders. The mother of one of the dead burglars complained that the homeowners shouldn’t have shot to kill, but as my coworker noted, “It is a lot easier to shoot at the chest; to shoot to not kill requires some skill.” It also takes really good eyesight.