Guns and Riots

Recently the traffic at this blog spiked up, apparently because apparently some people found this picture from this post to be inspiring in light of the riots in London:

The commentary accompanying this picture usually goes along the lines of: "Hey, look at these Korean Americans! They protecting their own with guns! I bet their stores were not looted at all! Londoners should be able to do the same!"

-EDIT 8/16/2011- Excellent example of this line of thought expressed by an NBC news editor in London, courtesy of the commenter thursdaynitelive:
As everyone in the newsroom debated the use of force – whether to use rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, Tasers, even bean-bag guns – I wondered why they were wasting their breath. “If your cops had guns, day number 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this, it would NOT have happened!” I said at a recent meeting.
Funny, because the Korean does not find the picture to be inspiring at all -- he finds it dispiriting. The Korean has been a consistent advocate of very strict gun control, partly because he knows what happened to Korean Americans during the riot. Although Korean Americans constituted only 2.5 percent of Los Angeles residents as of 2000, Korean Americans suffered the estimated property damages of over $350 million, or approximately half of the riot's total property damage. So much for the idea that guns will stop property damage.

(More after the jump)

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On top of not stopping property damage, presence of guns arguably caused more deaths in the Los Angeles riot compared to the London riot. The Economist put it succinctly:
To an American visiting London, one of the more striking aspects of last week’s riots was how few people died. Not including the police shooting death that touched off the original disturbance, five deaths have been attributed to the riots and looting. By contrast, 53 people died in the rioting that followed the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992.

At least part, if not most, of the difference is down to the fact that Americans are armed to the teeth: the criminals, the cops and the shopkeepers all have guns, whereas Britain has one of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the world. The result is a low homicide rate: just 2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002, compared with 5.62 in America. Murders in Britain are much less likely to be committed with a gun. Its firearm murder rate, at 0.02 per 100,000, is a fraction of America’s, at 3.25. Three of the riots’ victims were run down by a car while guarding a petrol station and one died of injuries after being beaten. The fifth was a looter who is believed to have been shot by another looter.

Britons are not more law-abiding than Americans. Their rates of car theft, robbery and burglary are all higher, some substantially. But strict gun-control laws and borders that are more impervious to smuggling than, say, America's border with Canada, mean that guns are less likely to be used in crimes. That may also cut down on firefights: British police generally do not carry guns, in part because they worry less about being shot at. 
The right to compare arms [The Economist]

Numbers in the LA riot bears out this point. 32 out of the 53 dead in the LA riot were killed by getting shot. Take a look at this list detailing the manner of death for each dead person during the LA riot, and how guns were involved for those who were shot dead. And then ask yourself how many of those deaths would have still happened if no one but the police had guns. If you'd like, replace guns in the hands of the looters with knives, and think about how effective at killing a drive-by stabbing would be compared to a drive-by shooting, or if the police would be quicker to shoot someone who is pulling a knife out of his pocket instead of a gun.

Guns do not stop riots. Social order, established through law, ethics, morality and collective identity, does.
For a recent example, the way the Japanese people handled themselves after the catastrophic earthquake clearly shows that even under conditions that are eminently ripe for indiscriminate looting, civilized societies find a way to maintain order without degenerating to the level of naked brute force. (By the way, don't think this happened because the Japanese people are angels. In 1923, in the aftermath of a massive earthquake, there was a riot that ended up killing as many as 6,600 ethnic Koreans who were living in Japan.) Even in the U.S., indiscriminate looting could have broken out in the massive blackout in 2003 that left 55 million across the northeastern United States and Canada without electricity. Despite the widespread concern over looting, actual incidences of looting were few and very far between. And as any New Yorker who went through the blackout can attest, it was not the guns that prevented the looting that everyone feared.

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In response to this post, the Korean predicts that there will be a lot of outraged gun advocates on the comment board -- over the years, the Korean found that the only rivals of gun advocates in terms of zealotry are anti-dog meat people and fan death deniers. The Korean welcomes them, as he welcomes all comers as long as they keep up with the Comments Policy. (For the record: The Korean respects the Second Amendment. But just like the freedoms guaranteed in other parts of the Bill of Rights are not unlimited, he believes that there should be sensible regulations on firearms, such as license and registration, and steep penalties for illegal sales.) But the Korean will conclude by addressing one of the common rejoinders, because he is yet to see it forcefully rejected in the public discourse about this issue.

Gun advocates frequently argue: "Who cares if the looters get killed? They are looters! They deserve it, and we have a right to defend ourselves!"

The lack of civilized mindset in this statement is astounding. The looters deserve prison time and payment of restitution. But they plainly do not deserve to die. It is one of the most fundamental principles of justice that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. We don't cut off the hands of the thieves, and we don't break every part of the body of a murderer on a breaking wheel, because such punishments are deemed wildly disproportionate to the crimes in a civilized society. Our nation's constitution, in the Bill of Rights, guarantees that punishment will be proportionate to the crime. Our nation's law clearly states that people who commit certain types of crime under certain circumstances deserve to die, and looting is not one of those crimes. The law is also clear that self-defense should be proportional to the perceived threat. Deadly force can only be used against a deadly threat -- unless the looter also looks like he is trying to kill you, you cannot try to kill the looter either. Not even the police is allowed to brutalize a suspect, even though the suspect might be clearly in the middle of committing a crime. That is the law, and that is also justice.

The idea that we should be allowed to kill whoever remotely threatens us is repugnant to law and order. When people say they want to be able to shoot down the looters, what they really want is not law and order. What they truly want is anarchy, a war of all against all, and the biggest guns with which to survive that war.

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