Gun Control: How would we know?

I don’t know how to keep this topic away from http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​gw/​​poli­tics_is_the_mind­kil­ler/​​ , so I’m just go­ing to ex­hort ev­ery­one to try to keep this about ra­tio­nal­ity and not about poli­tics as usual. I my­self have strong opinions here, which I’m de­liber­ately squelch­ing.

So I got to think­ing about the is­sue of gun con­trol in the wake of a re­cent school shoot­ing in the US, speci­fi­cally from the POV of min­i­miz­ing pre­sumed-in­no­cents get­ting ran­domly shot. Please limit dis­cus­sion to that *spe­cific* is­sue, or we’ll be here all year.

My ques­tion is not so much “Is strict gun con­trol or lots of guns bet­ter for us [in the sole con­text of min­i­miz­ing pre­sumed-in­no­cents get­ting ran­domly shot]?”, al­though I’m cer­tainly in­ter­ested in know­ing the an­swer to that, but I think if that was an­swer­able we as a cul­ture wouldn’t still be ar­gu­ing about it.

Let’s try a differ­ent ques­tion, though: how would we know?

That is, what non-mag­i­cal statis­ti­cal ev­i­dence could some­one give that would ac­tu­ally set­tle the ques­tion rea­son­ably well (let’s say, at about the same level as “smok­ing causes can­cer”, or so)?

As a first pass I looked at http://​​en.wikipe­dia.org/​​wiki/​​List_of_coun­tries_by_in­ten­tional_homi­cide_rate and http://​​en.wikipe­dia.org/​​wiki/​​List_of_coun­tries_by_firearm-re­lated_death_rate and I noted that the US, which is fa­mously kind of all about the guns, has sig­nifi­cantly higher rates than other first-world coun­tries. I had gone into this with a de­liber­ate de­sire to win, in the less wrong sense, so I ac­cepted that this strongly speaks against my per­sonal be­liefs (my de­fault stance is that all teach­ers should have con­cealed carry per­mits and manda­tory shoot­ing range time re­quire­ments), and was about to up­date (well, ut­terly obliter­ate) those be­liefs, when I went “Now, hold on. In the con­text of first world coun­tries, the US has rel­a­tively lax gun con­trol, and we seem to rather en­joy kil­ling each other. How do I know those are causally re­lated, though? Is it not just as likely that, for ex­am­ple, we have all the homi­ci­dally crazy peo­ple, and that that leads to both of those things? It doesn’t seem to be the case that, say, in the UK, you have large-scale se­cret hoard­ing of guns; if that was the case, they’d be closer to use in gun-re­lated homi­cides, I would think. But just be­cause it didn’t hap­pen in the UK doesn’t mean it wouldn’t hap­pen here.”

At that point I re­al­ized that I don’t know, even in the­ory, how to tell what the an­swer to my ques­tion is, or what ev­i­dence would be strong ev­i­dence for one po­si­tion or the other. I am not strong enough as a ra­tio­nal­ist or a statis­ti­cian.

So, I thought I’d ask LW, which is full of peo­ple bet­ter at those things than I am. :)

Have at.

-Robin