Friday, April 29, 2016

Preston Sprinkle on Good Guys With Guns

The last time I wrote a critique of Preston Sprinkle's pacifist argument was a couple years ago, regarding his book on the issue.  Now Preston is taking on gun ownership and gun control, so perhaps it's time to dust off the old critical canon and fire off a blog post or two.

The latest is an exchange with Doug Wilson (I know nothing about Mr. Wilson other than what is posted in the exchange).  I think Sprinkle is on more solid ground than Wilson with respect to some of the Biblical passages discussed, e.g., the sword passage in the Bible described here, though I think Sprinkle ultimately has an unseemly dispensationalist view on killing and violence when dealing with the Old Testament.  At any rate, I don't have much to say about that post on Bible passages other than this. As with science, so with Biblical exegesis: theory is underdetermined by data.  What that means in science is that there is always more than one possible explanation for the data.  Determining the best explanation cannot be done solely by looking at the data.  The same is true with Scriptures.  Doctrine cannot simply be read off of Scripture.  Rather one has to take all of one's available evidence including evidence for how one ought to interpret Scripture.  Sprinkle does this in practice, in fact, appealing to law enforcement officers and FBI statistics elsewhere to make his case.  Yet he hasn't engaged in many philosophical critiques of pacifism.

I do have a few things to say on this post on good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns which goes beyond the Biblical data.  It's short, so the interested reader should read the whole thing first.  Commentary below the fold.

I'll start with a few remarks on the famous Wayne Lapierre 2012 quotation which is central to the discussion:
 “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I grew up hearing this phrase....
None of us grew up hearing this 2012 phrase, but of course we heard things like it.  This particular phrase is an obvious instance of hyperbole to make the point that generally a bad guy with a gun cannot be stopped from killing by means of a knife or a quick prayer.  It happens that bad guys are stopped by other bad or good guys, or by other means, but generally one shouldn't take a cell phone to a gun fight.  In context, Lapierre was advocating that armed security guards be placed at schools to prevent killing sprees.
I’ve got a friend who’s a Navy SEAL sniper, and a darn good one at that. He laughs at the “good guy with gun stops bad guy with gun” myth. As a sniper, he has trained for thousands of hours to be the good guy with a really accurate gun, and even he says that high intensity situations are so incredibly unpredictable. Even with thousands of hours of training, pulling that trigger is one of the most hardest things he’s ever done.
The sniper is no doubt correct: more training corresponds with better accuracy and courage under fire.  But here is another fact.  For any soldier who shoots someone there is always a first time.  Most cops and soldiers (thankfully) kill no one nor shoot anything other than in practice.  And the same is obviously true of civilians.  Another point: a lot of cops and soldiers like to use this tact partly because they like to be the only ones with the guns.  But an armed citizenry puts a check on totalitarian military and police forces.  That's the reason for the Second Amendment.  It is true that the U.S. military has overwhelming force and could obliterate all of its citizens if it wanted.  But totalitarian regimes don't kill all the citizens (what would be the point?) and an armed citizenry would be able to put up ample resistance.  (Just think what a small group in Afghanistan were able to do to the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.)
Call me a party pooper, but I don’t trust the average American, revved up on Fox News and a vigilante spirit, to perform well in a high intensity situation that he’s not trained for. 
[I'll ignore the obligatory Fox News reference every academic feels the need to make in order to sufficiently ground liberal bona fides with the in-crowd.]  But do you trust the crazed shooter in the cafeteria or shopping mall?  After all, people do go on killing sprees and shoot other people with less training than those who have concealed carry permits.  And they are in high intensity situations killing for the first time, and they do a "pretty" good job of it.  It should go without saying that you'd be safer with a gun than a cell phone--amateur good girl vs. amateur bad guy.
Shots are fired. Man with a gun. A bad guy with a gun! Or a good guy reaching for his cell phone? No! A bad guy with a gun. Or maybe another good guy with a gun. Is he shooting? Or laying down his gun? Is that a gun? How do you know? Are those kids behind him? Will you shoot them if you miss the bad guy with a gun? Are you still sure he’s the bad guy? How do you know? Shots are fired. Right behind you. Wheel around and fire back. Another bad guy. Ready to kill. Or is it an undercover cop? Shooting the bad guy. Good guy or bad guy? Two seconds to decide.
These are questions worth thinking about, no doubt.  But so are these:  If I do nothing, will more innocents die than if I did something with a gun?  Are there no cops around?  Should I let the shooting spree continue when I have a gun and everyone getting killed doesn't?  Should I watch another kid have has head split open or do something about it even though my self-righteous left-wing friends might call me a vigilante?  And so on and so forth.
In fact, the FBI recently released a massive study on the 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013. Most of these situations ended with the shooter committing suicide. But 26 of 160 were stopped when someone in the crowd stopped the shooter. You might think this is a decent enough percentage to justify the good guy with a gun myth, but according to the study, only 5 were stopped with a guy with a gun while 21 were stopped by unarmed civilians.
Active shooter situations are rare, but it's good to consult the empirical evidence as far as it goes.  It is true that most commit suicide, but that is generally once the shooter is forcefully resisted by someone with a gun. The most comprehensive study on gun ownership, gun control, concealed carry, etc. is John Lott's book.  Naturally, since most social scientists are hardcore leftists, it has received a good deal of criticism, much of which is addressed in the third edition and on Lott's website.  It still  remains the most comprehensive study.  (I've read it; you should too.  It's painfully boring but not because of lack of empirical evidence.)  At worst, having citizens with guns is a wash when it comes to total deaths and violent crimes.  This is taking the most skeptical view of the data. There are more gun deaths when there are more guns, but fewer homicide by knife, blunt objects etc., fewer hot burglaries, fewer rapes, and so forth.  Females are also safer, naturally because the Colt is the great equalizer.  (Don't be fooled by silly arguments like these which focus only on gun deaths and not total homicides and violent crimes).  At best more guns greatly reduce deaths, violent crimes, and totalitarian states virtually enslaving former citizens.

It needs also to be noted that simply possessing or brandishing a firearm also stops crimes, but no one knows for sure how often this occurs since there is no reliable method police and the government have to keep such records.  But we know it happens and likely more incidents are prevented in this way than by actually firing a weapon.
If the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, then the only guy I want to see packing is Jesus. He’s the only good guy I trust. 
So is the conclusion that even in a fallen world there should be no military?  Police too should be unarmed?   This seems like the logical implication.

But is there a good Biblical or philosophical or empirical argument for this conclusion?  Can you have a well functioning society in a fallen world where the only arms the good guys have are attached to their bodies?  I've never seen a decent argument for that conclusion.

Perhaps Sprinkle thinks that it's better that some in the government are armed.  Part of the problem with the debate with Mr. Wilson is that it's not entirely clear precisely what the issue is that's being debated.  Who exactly are the good and bad guys?


  1. Why is it that these guys just want to be loved by liberals? "Look, I'm a Christian and I'm not so bad...see, even _I_ think Fox News is full of lunatics, even _I_ think the 2nd Amendment is hogwash, even _I_ would rather use my heart than my brain...?"

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. "But an armed citizenry puts a check on totalitarian military and police forces. That's the reason for the Second Amendment."

    Is that really so?
    The point re: 2nd amendment is constitutional and historical and I won't go there though I have my doubts concerning the proposition.

    There are plenty of counter-examples re: the first point. I understand that Czarist subjects were not banned to be armed. Guns were common enough in 19C Europe. That did not stop Bolsheviks from imposing a most murderous regime in Russia. The Cossacks and Chechens were universally armed with guns and yet they could not stand Bolsheviks.
    In 20C, plenty of guns circulated in Iraq, I think even under Saddam and other ME countries. These guns, I do not know, how much of a check they put up against the dictatorships.

  4. Having an armed citizenry isn't a sufficient condition to stopping a totalitarian regime; but being armed is darn near a necessary condition.