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[politics] Guns and terrorism and the defense of essential liberties - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-08-08 05:47
Subject: [politics] Guns and terrorism and the defense of essential liberties
Security: Public
Tags:guns, politics
The 9-11 attacks in 2001 killed 2,996 people1. As a direct result of that, Americans accepted significant limitations on civil liberties and Constitutional rights in the name of fighting terrorism. 3,000 deaths were enough to profoundly change our social behaviors and legal framework. For the first time in our history, we became a nation that formally endorsed torture as an instrument of interrogation. We embraced assassination as an instrument of state policy. We initiated policies of indefinite detention without trial. We began placing ever greater legal and social limitations on freedom of speech. We enacted legal protections for warrantless searches and extensive monitoring of private communication. In effect, we engaged in an explicit wholesale abrogation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. Arguably the Ninth and Tenth Amendments have also been limited.

This unprecedented assault on the Constitutional rights of Americans was led in substantial part by American conservatives through their political voice in the Republican party. Regrettably, the Democratic party largely supported the Republican initiatives. Even more regrettably, the current Democratic administration has perpetuated most or all of these steps unabated.

Since 9-11, through 2010, there have been 25 deaths due to terrorism in the United States4.

3,000 deaths in a one-time event were sufficiently important for conservatives to shred the Constitution. 25 additional deaths in ten years have been sufficiently important for conservatives to continue to shred the Constitution, and to demonize and vilify anyone who speaks out against these measures.

Compare 9-11 to gun violence. In 2001, the same year that almost 3,000 people died in a terrorist attack, approximately 11,000 people in the United States were murdered by firearms2. Since then, the firearms murder rate has swung between 8,000 and 11,000 deaths annually3. (It's been trending downward of late.)

Yet according to my conservative friends, the Constitution is so profoundly sacred that any attempt to rein in gun violence is an unacceptable transgression of the Second Amendment. The liberty of keeping and bearing arms is so critical to American citizenship that almost 10,000 deaths per year are an acceptable price to pay.

My question for the Republican party is this: Why was a one-time event of 3,000 deaths so profoundly unacceptable that we changed our entire American way of life, when an annual epidemic of firearms death three times that size is simply part of the cost of a free society? Why is one selected part of the Bill of Rights so inviolable that to even discuss the possibility of gun control is tantamount to treason, while the rest of the Bill of Rights can be traded away in a sustained moment of panic?

In part, I think I can answer my own question. From what I can see of the conservative perspective, this comes down to the utility argument.

For example, motor vehicle deaths in 2001 totaled 42,1965. (Also trending downward since.) That's 1,400 percent of the 9-11 death toll, yet there was no outrage. We accept the motor vehicle death rate as part of the social cost of our transportation system. As a society, we assign a very high value to our transportation system. Furthermore, these deaths are by definition accidental, with the exception of vehicular homicide or vehicular suicide. No one expects to get into an accident, after all. So we trade utility for risk. High utility, low perceived risk.

Terrorism, on the other hand, has no social value whatsoever to anyone other than the terrorists themselves (and possibly the groups or causes they claim to represent). At any rate, Islamic terrorism of the sort that perpetrated the 9-11 attacks cannot be argued by anyone sane of any political persuasion to represent any positive value to the United States. (I am speaking here specifically of the attacks themselves, not the Bush administration's response.) Zero utility, high perceived risk.

Widespread private gun ownership has a strong perceived utility to people who favor such a policy. Target shooting, hunting, self-defense and defense of essential liberties are generally the positive values assigned to gun ownership by conservatives and other gun enthusiasts. To people of this viewpoint, much as how society as a whole accepts the automobile death rate as part of the social cost of widespread automobile use, the gun death rate is simply part of the social cost of widespread private gun ownership. And much as with vehicle deaths, no one expects to be shot by their own gun. Most people don't have a serious fear of violent crime in their daily lives. So we trade utility for risk. High utility (from the gun-owning perspective), low perceived risk.

So the real point of argument isn't to ask whether the deaths are acceptable. They are, much as automobile deaths are acceptable, if you assume up front that widespread private gun ownership provides social utility. The real point of argument is whether that assessment of utility is valid.

It is presumably obvious that I don't perceive any such utility.

I am indifferent to target shooting, and my negative opinions about hunting are purely personal and therefore don't translate into a policy stance on my part.

The self-defense argument collapses in the face of actual data about gun usage in the home, which is strongly unfavorable to the usual pro-gun position. Per Wikipedia, [E]very time a gun in the home was used in a self defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four accidental shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and eleven attempted or completed suicides6. One standard conservative answer to that is the statistics don't account for millions of crimes deferred by gun ownership. This is another pro-gun claim that doesn't stand up to non-partisan investigation of the data7. Despite numerous personal anecdotes about self-defense, many of them true, as well as some cherished fringe scholarship on the Right, for society as a whole, the self-defense argument fails on the plain face of the facts.

Furthermore, even if I grant the self-defense argument in the terms framed by pro-gun people, it still doesn't make sense. Guns are needed for self-defense primarily because bad guys have guns. The only logical outcome of this situation is a positive feedback loop of ever more increasingly powerful and widely distributed weapons. An arms race between citizens and criminals. Whose interests does that serve?

As for the utility argument regarding the defense of essential liberties, insofar as I can tell, conservative America threw that one out the window when they demonstrated an aggressive willingness to trade away a broad spectrum of essential liberties in response to 9-11. If Republicans were the Constitutional absolutists they claim so stoutly to be with respect to the Second Amendment, there would have been a very different response to 9-11, the USA PATRIOT Act would not exist in anything like its current form, and life would be very different in America, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

It's simple common sense that fewer guns mean less violence. Gun violence statistics in the rest of the industrialized world bear this out unequivocally. That to even make this assertion in the national conversation is considered radical and unacceptable is a sign of how far into the culture of violence our society has descended.

The Tea Party constantly reminds us how important the wisdom of the Founders is. As Ben Franklin said, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."




Sources:

1. Source: Wikipedia.
2. Source: FBI press release.
3. Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports.
4. Source: University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database.
5. Source: Wikipedia.
6. Source: Wikipedia.
7. Source: Harvard University.

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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-08-08 13:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My question for the Republican party is this: Why was a one-time event of 3,000 deaths so profoundly unacceptable that we changed our entire American way of life, when an annual epidemic of firearms death three times that size is simply part of the cost of a free society?

Because the first is inflicted by an enemy, who given the chance would inflict much, much more death, and thus must be actively fought lest he grow stronger and gain the ability to kill many more; by contrast, deaths due to unlawful killings with firearms are not inflicted by an enemy, and remain about the same year after year. We can meaningfully fight wars against the Terrorist States and Organizations, and by defeating them reduce the power of international terrorism and hence the deaths it can inflict; we cannot do the same against unlawful killings with firearms.

Why is one selected part of the Bill of Rights so inviolable that to even discuss the possibility of gun control is tantamount to treason, while the rest of the Bill of Rights can be traded away in a sustained moment of panic?

The Second Amendment is important because it makes tyranny more cotly to enforce and rebellion against such tyranny easier. We should not trade away the rest of the Bill of Rights, however ...

... you are speaking ahistorically. In fact the US Constitution gives the Federal Government extraordinary powers in wartime, and the degree to which our civil rights have been abrogated in this war is not exceptional by the standards of international wars which have touched our homeland. Compare with the Revolutionary War, Civil War or World Wars One and Two.

There is no excuse for the behavior of the TSA, which should have its operating procedures wholly re-written and almost all its personnel terminated with prejudice (which phrase means "fired with rehire forbidden," not "shot"). They are engaging not in legitimate security, but in security theatre, and an obnoxious play at that.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-08-08 15:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
vThe Second Amendment is important because it makes tyranny more cotly to enforce and rebellion against such tyranny easier.

You really believe this don't you? Even in the face of helicopter gunships, drones, armored vehicles, a massive skills difference in military training.

This is a story you guys tell yourselves, it has no basis in reality.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-08-08 15:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The Second Amendment is important because it makes tyranny more cotly to enforce and rebellion against such tyranny easier.

You really believe this don't you?


The Founders certainly did -- that was the main point of the Second Amendment.

Even in the face of helicopter gunships, drones, armored vehicles, a massive skills difference in military training.

They believed it in the face of ships-of-the-line, organized cavalry, field artillery, and the exact same "massive skills difference in military training." The world isn't as different today as the historically-ignorant may imagine.
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dionysus1999
User: dionysus1999
Date: 2012-08-08 13:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Excellent post, next time someone asks me to articulate my stand on the Patriot Act or gun control I can point to this and say "Jay said it better than I can".
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The Ferrett
User: theferrett
Date: 2012-08-08 13:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My question for the Republican party is this: Why was a one-time event of 3,000 deaths so profoundly unacceptable that we changed our entire American way of life, when an annual epidemic of firearms death three times that size is simply part of the cost of a free society?

Though I disagree with the logic, their logic was something along the lines of "A terrorist attack would not just kill isolated individuals, but potentially destroy a city." No number of scattered car accidents could cause the economic havoc and loss of life that, say, a nuke smuggled into NYC would cause.

The car deaths are something a town can endure and still survive. A terrorist attack of sufficient magnitude, however, could destroy the town.
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Monissa Whiteley
User: monissaw
Date: 2012-08-08 13:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I usually just read and don't comment but this comment

One standard conservative answer to that is the statistics don't account for millions of crimes deferred by gun ownership.

The idea that gun ownership obviously discourages house break-ins because thieves avoid houses where people are present is nice and neat, until you look at somewhere like Australia. Very few houses have guns, and in those that do, they're usually locked away, and yet thieves still avoid breaking-in when there are people present. Funny that :)

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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-08-08 13:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Target shooting does not require the right to keep one's guns at home. It also does not require automatic or even semi-automatic weapons, at least in the international shooting competitions, rather than the US gun club home-grown events.
Having weapons kept in a single secure building with high security and access only in the premises, with controlled access to very limited amounts of ammunition, under the supervision of highly competent instructors and with checks on membership would not be a big problem. ANy claim that target shooting has anything to do with the US gun control debate is misleading or utterly uninformed about real target shooting.
Having said that, the UK did ban such clubs (by banning their firearms) after one of its very few mass shootings. THe UK has the second strongest anti-gun laws in the world. Japan has the strongest. I felt pretty safe living in the UK and feel just as safe here in Japan. I don't feel anywhere near as safe in the US.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-08 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, for my own part, I'm always appalled by the firearms homicide rate. It doesn't take a mass shooting to get my attention.

I accept that my risk of vehicle accident is part of both your social benefit and mine. (Of course for the sake of discussion ignoring other issues about roads, fossil fuel consumption, resource management, automobile-centered culture, etc.)

I refuse to accept that my risk of gun death is of anyone's social benefit.

Insofar as I am concerned, the utility argument zeroes itself out. Fundamentally, to me the question is whether your theoretical defense of essential liberties worth my actual life?
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Julie
User: quaero_verum
Date: 2012-08-08 17:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fundamentally, to me the question is whether your theoretical defense of essential liberties worth my actual life?

Bingo.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-08-08 18:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I find it interesting that the UK has something like a quarter of the deaths through vehicle accident of the USA.(1)

One of the contributing factors has to be the quality of training and testing involved. When I had to take a test to get a US driving license I was boggled at how meaningless the test was in comparison to the British one I'd taken 20 years before. I understand the UK test is now even harder.


(1)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate
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Chris McKitterick: just Chris
User: mckitterick
Date: 2012-08-08 19:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:just Chris
I'm continually stunned and appalled by the conservative right-wing, which is perfectly happy granting enormous powers to the government when it suits their agendas ("Damn ferriners! Mooslim ter'rists! Amurika, fuk ya!"), then bitching about how things like the Affordable Care Act are the End of the World.

These are the same people who also use bumper stickers that inform us, "You'll have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand." Irony, much?

Even so, I think the main reason they're okay with letting the government erode most of our rights "during wartime" (even during an eternal war) and grow massively in regards to "homeland security" while being totally unwilling to allow the same government to take away their right to bear arms (or other right-wing-pleasing rights) is that they feel they could mount an insurgency against said government should it grow too powerful. Because they let it grow so powerful, ironically.

True, if every red-blooded American decided to stand up against tyranny tomorrow with force of arms, most would perish. But such insurgencies always win, in the long run. Hell, such insurgencies in Afghanistan drove out the Soviets and will soon drive us out.

Many of these types also believe that we stand at the brink of Armageddon. And they're probably right, though for the wrong reasons. Climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion, loose bioweapons, and so forth are infinitely more likely to bring about the end of advanced civilization than gods descending from On High... hell, the Zombie Apocalypse is more likely than that! But we're closer to the end of the world than ever, and he who is armed and part of a community is he who will survive.

So they believe it's necessary, and I think they're right on that score. Same with cars: I can foresee a day when a massively more powerful government (say, like California's) might decide no more internal-combustion engines. And they might have a good reason for this. But imagine the outcry. Not going to happen, at least not until you start seeing so many electrics out there that they're ending up as 16-year-olds' first vehicles in places like Iowa.

Mostly, though, talk of banning guns is just impractical. The Soviet Union manufactured so many millions of AK-47s that they will NEVER disappear. Published records of registered firearms in the USA suggest that there's about one for every man, woman, and child here... and there are likely many times more out there. Guns don't become unusable unless they're not maintained, and gun owners (as opposed to criminals) take good care of them. So if we banned guns tomorrow, they'd still be around for, oh, forever. And they'd only be owned by those willing to keep them despite the law. And I'd bet that most gun owners would keep them, and they'd start secret machining groups to build and repair them for one another, and soon there'd be so many out there - and dangerous ones, to boot, that might explode - that we'd be worse than ever.

Plus, as I've argued here before, guns are not the problem. Other industrialized, gun-totin' nations don't have nearly our gun-crime rate. Something at the very root of this nation is what's broken, and I think it's that the Left and Right do not speak the same language, and it's that we all now live in "internet bubbles" that exclude the other side's opinions.

I can't speak for Republicans or Right-wingers, but I think this is the main reasoning. I can speak as a progressive gun-owner, who hasn't gone hunting since a bad experience in childhood. It helps me sleep sounder at night (I don't have to worry about a child finding it in my house) - yes, childhood issues there, but still. It helps me feel safer come Big Brother or The End of the World, whether that means defending myself and those close to me or hunting for food when the supermarkets can no longer supply it. And, honestly, it's a blast to go target-shooting.

Because you and I are on the same side of the political spectrum, I hope this is a dialogue we can have, and I hope this helps!
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2012-08-08 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Another progressive gun-owner here, and I mostly agree.

Well, actually, in many ways I favor gun control. However, it has become very clear that this is not a practical option here-and-now, so...

Ours are mainly for recreational target shooting, and as a back-up for self-defense. I make jewelry, so my house is potentially a desirable target for thieves. These guys would be VERY disappointed that I do not have lots and lots of gold and diamonds around! (I buy them only on need.) And considering that several legal rulings have determined that the police do NOT have any legal obligation to protect the citizens from criminals... well, it makes me more comfortable, as does our excellent alarm system, our dog, and steel doors.

MA has some pretty restrictive gun laws in many ways, especially when it comes to storage, and we follow them carefully, so there is little risk of accidents.

Plus- we've rather fallen in love with some of the older-style guns, like from the 1800s. My husband just got a kit to make a black-powder duelling pistol...
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Chris McKitterick: smiling Chris 2006
User: mckitterick
Date: 2012-08-08 20:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smiling Chris 2006
I've wanted to buy a black-powder gun since I was a teen! One day....
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Chris McKitterick: house
User: mckitterick
Date: 2012-12-13 18:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:house
I should have come back here to update when, a month after this discussion, an intruder tried breaking into my home. He got so far as to reach around my (partially opened) sliding-glass door, even after I turned on the overhead light. Considering how many robberies (some violent) have been going on around here, I was really glad to be armed. And EVEN GLADDER that I didn't have to use the shotgun on the man.

The police arrived a few minutes later. If he'd broken in and been armed, they would have arrived too late. This is my primary argument for continuing to allow legal ownership of guns.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-08 20:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
With all respect, to my mind, the "we have too many guns to control them now" is one of the most pernicious and specious aspects of the whole debate. That's rather like saying, "too many Catholic priests are pedophiles to try to stop them now." It dismisses the problem rather than acknowledging the need for a solution.

Any fewer guns is better than any more guns. The only way to get to a lot fewer guns is to start with any fewer guns. Otherwise you're giving up on the solution before you ever try to implement it.

A simpler way of saying all the above is to cite the First Rule of Holes: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Edited at 2012-08-08 08:29 pm (UTC)
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Chris McKitterick: Chris Gully Foyle
User: mckitterick
Date: 2012-08-08 20:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Chris Gully Foyle
What I'm saying in regards to the "we have too many guns to control them now" argument is that, unlike pedophile priests, they will never die. The only guns we can collect (as buybacks - the most likely method - or enforced turn-ins) are those owned by law-abiding folks who will not fight back against tyranny. The criminals won't turn them in... but you can argue theirs won't last as long because they're criminals.

We try to stop criminals, like pedophiles, through a combination of moral teaching, laws, and the criminal justice system. But they still crop up. The good part, if you can see it that way, is that they eventually grow old and die (or get caught and, thus, stop).

Let's look at using those same tools for guns.

Moral teaching: Check. Gun-owner parents pass on gun safety and ethics.

Laws: Check, though we can clearly increase waiting periods, have standard background checks, and so forth that we don't have now.

Criminal justice system: Check. However, people who are going to engage in gun crimes are just as unaffected by this as the people who are going to engage in ANY crime. Pedophile priests, murderers, and so forth do what they do DESPITE laws. Criminals who use guns in the commission of crimes do that DESPITE gun laws.

It's the PEOPLE who are the problem in both cases, see?

Eliminating, say, a realistic 10% of guns in the USA (good luck removing more of them) would do nothing to affect the criminals who use them in crimes.
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chris_gerrib
User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2012-08-08 19:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The problem with the statemetn [E]very time a gun in the home was used in a self defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four accidental shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and eleven attempted or completed suicides is that it goes against most people's personal experience.

I've owned guns and lived in a house with guns my whole life. So did my dad and my uncles on both sides of the family. We've had zero accidental shootings, assaults or suicides. In fact, the only person in my family to hear a gun fired in anger was my grandfather - and that was a 20MM anti-aircraft gun on a WWII carrier.

So, the "you'd be safer without a gun in your house" may be true, but it's not perceived to be true. I suspect that this is because the accidental death rate is so low - under 1,000 per year, on the order of lightning strikes.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-08 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's a lot like seatbelts. Most people never need 'em, nor do they ever get in situations where not having them was the problem. Those few die hard anti-seatbelt types (including one of my relatives) are full of stories about people thrown clear of burning cars because they weren't strapped in.

Which is confusing anecdote for data. Humans naturally trust anecdote, but have to be carefully trained to accept data. So saying, "it goes against most people's personal experience" is both true and inaccurate.

But I'm sure you already knew that...
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slweippert
User: slweippert
Date: 2012-08-08 21:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Edited because this is so good, I don't want to wait for permission, so I will have to go with apologies if you ask me to take it down.
I hope you don't mind that I shared this on Facebook. :)

Edited at 2012-08-08 09:32 pm (UTC)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-08 21:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Share away.
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Peter Eng
User: dornbeast
Date: 2012-08-09 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Why was a one-time event of 3,000 deaths so profoundly unacceptable that we changed our entire American way of life, when an annual epidemic of firearms death three times that size is simply part of the cost of a free society?

My personal guess comes down to visibility.

If I stole $100 from somebody, they'd notice. And they'd scream.

If I stole $1 from somebody every day, for a year, would that person notice?
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jere7my: Glasses
User: jere7my
Date: 2012-08-09 03:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Glasses
Waaaait a minute...that's you?
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-08-09 08:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
It occurs to me that another probably significant factor is that US culture commits all those automobile deaths, gun deaths, tobacco-induced deaths, etc on itself, whereas the 9/11 deaths were done by "outsiders".

It seems people are much more willing to blame and punish others than themselves.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2012-08-09 11:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>>It's simple common sense that fewer guns mean less violence.<<

A question: Does our society truly want less violence? We love movies with lots of explosions. Local news leads with accidents. I suspect many enjoy watching certain sports because of their violent nature.

Etc., etc.


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