Knives at Gun Fights

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It is often argued that, if people were denied possession of guns, they would simply resort to other means to commit murder or acts of terrorism. This is not untrue. Witness the recent attacks in London, and the stabbing in Michigan, which apparently occurred after the assailant couldn’t get a gun. The largest mass murders in China – where only soldiers and police have guns – was committed using a knife. The largest, of course, if you don’t count state sanctioned mass murders.

After the London Bridge incident, Donald Trump seemed to tweet (one can never be too sure about his meaning: Covfefe!) that it proves that America’s lack of gun control was completely justified by the stabbings. I don’t know if this is another version of the absurdist ‘good guy with guns’ joke the NRA keeps trying to tell (Well, I laugh!) or a suggestion that knifes are just as dangerous as guns. I’d invite Mr. Trump to bring a knife to a gun fight and see how that works out.

And, of course, those who oppose control over guns always suggest that the next thing we might do is make people register their kitchen knives. Which maybe is not as far-fetched as all that.

I’m currently in England and when you use the self-checkout lines to buy wine the computer demands that someone come over to authorize the purchase. We don’t want 12 year olds buying bourbon after all (it would really be wasted on them, don’t you think?). The other day I had to buy a replacement paring knife for the cottage we’re staying in – and guess what? Someone had to come over and determine I was a responsible adult before I could complete the purchase. Obviously the standards are low because they approved it and the two bottles of wine without question but it does seem to suggest they could refuse to sell me a knife if I looked like a gangbanger eager to take a knife to school or had crazy psychopathic eyes or something.

And why not? Shouldn’t we at least question people who want to buy swords or other weapons lethal from more than, say, two feet away? I know that most sword owners are sensible law-abiding people but it only takes one (or three) to wreak havoc in a crowded bar. Of course, not as much havoc as one guy with a revolver or a semi-automatic rifle.

Now, I know some of my friends are members of the SCA or like to collect blades from around the world but most of them, I’m sure, keep their weapons out of the hands of kids and their drunk or otherwise unstable friends. So that’s it. The next time a gun nut argues that registering or controlling guns is as stupid as registering kitchen knives, I’m going to stare at him with my best crazy eyes and snarl: Seems like a reasonable idea to me.

And that’s ten minutes.

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Referenda

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The recent British election highlights the core problems with referenda. Some voters who voted to leave Europe either resented their choices or did not see Brexit as a ‘conservative’ issue. Instead of supporting Theresa May and the Tories, they chose someone else. Referenda are never more that simplistic snapshots of how someone mostly feels on a particular day.

Mostly is the key factor here – and it is easy to see how even winning a referendum on a simple either/or question does not necessarily reflect the popular will. It has to do with how strongly you feel.

Some people of course are 100% for something or 100% against. These are the same people who constantly use ‘always’ and ‘never’ in arguments. “You always spend too much money or you never do the dishes” is usually a replacement for “You often spend too much money and you seldom do the dishes.” Indeed, even if the splits are more like 60/40, the words always and never get bandied about.

And that is how most people are about most things. They are mostly for them or mostly against and sometimes that mostly is just 51/49.

Take a person who voted to leave Europe – they might know that their kids are doing okay in the city and they might enjoy a bit of low cost French cheese or Spanish wine but hate the idea of large number of foreign workers or the tax cost of supporting Greece. They may feel 47% for Europe and 53% against it but by voting Leave, they become 100% for going. The same analysis works on the other side.

But now imagine that the 48% of Brits who voted to stay in Europe are actually more committed to the idea – say on average 60-40 – while the 52% who voted to go are more ambivalent – say 45-55 – and, if you do the math, the popular sentiment (adding up all those splits) would be to stay in Europe.

Of course, there is no way to measure that with the simplistic way we currently run referendum – but why should we be stuck with something designed 100 years ago? This is 2017 and we do have the technology. Suppose you could register your ambivalence?

There might be a two part question. Are you for or against proposition Z? How much are you for or against it? A person might, if they are at all reflective and capable of seeing in colours other than black and white, decide that they are 51% in favour and 42% against and 7% undecided.

Then our clever machines could tally it all up and say that the average voter is 48% in favour, 45% against and 8% undecided. And we all get to embrace Proposition Z and most of us would be at least partly satisfied.

There are plenty of other things wrong with referenda (and difficulties with true democracy, despite its superiority to other forms of governance) but at least this version could provide you with some certainty about how the people feel – if not why they feel that way.

And that’s ten minutes.