Why Do We Commit Acts of Violence?

Virtue Signaling, and proof-texting Gun control (supply and demand of mass shooting)

I am going to try to tackle the gun control debate, which is one of the hottest topics, if not the hottest topic right now. This is actually a classic debate that has been another way of polarizing our nation. I have seen memes on both sides. The problem is that as we have become more polarized, we have ceased to see our brothers on the other side as brothers, but as something worse. You start seeing the other side as the enemy when you can no longer see the value in their point of view.  

The debate seems to swirl around the motives that we assign to the people on the other end of the argument. This makes it easy to view the other side with contempt and help us signal to others our own virtues. But why is it so easy to do this? As my friend Josh Glenn explains, “It is easy to see the virtues in your own position. It is a lot harder to see the problems with them, but you should, because it is what could make your position stronger.” Could it be that each of us had chosen to hone in on the statistics that seem to bolster our own argument?  

Proof texting gun control

When I was young and in youth group, I can remember going on this mission’s trip called Operation Barnabus.

We got to, among other things, spend time with over 100 other young people who were the cream of the crop of their respective youth groups. This led to many lively discussions about Bible related issues. Big things, like “original sin” were talked about, but so were smaller issues like “women in the workforce”. One of the things that always sticks out to me about this was that the person arguing would always have their “go to Bible verse”. Without fail, there was always one verse that they believed would win them the day. Soon after that, Dr. David Plaster introduced me to the idea of proof texting.

My favorite biblical example of this is 2 Thessalonians 3:10. The New International Version puts it this way:

10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Of course, people use this to put down government programs like food stamps and the like, but a broader understanding of the Bible quickly puts down this error.  

Many people have become masters of proof texting the gun control argument, pulling a statistic here or a study there, all in the effort to win the debate.

Two of my favorites are as follows:

Left leaning proof texting-

Guns took more than 36,000 lives in the United States last year. We are the only developed nation with this type of huge number, and it just so happens that we also have the most guns per capita of those developed nations. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Right leaning proof texting-

Chicago had 650-gun related homicides in 2017 and they have some of the strictest gun laws. Therefore, when you take the guns from the good guys then only the bad guys have them and they wreak havoc. Chicago is proof.

I have seen the destructive force of proof texting in religion as well. Entire church denominations have fallen prey to the idea that women need to cover their heads all of the time.

Somehow, things must be examined as a whole and not taken and focused on one piece at a time. This is where a good hearted, honest discussion would be helpful. I believe that right now, neither side would be willing to sit down and have that discussion though. This is partly because, as I mentioned earlier, we have already assigned the motives to those across the aisle from us.

Supply AND demand

The concept of supply and demand is something that should not be foreign to anyone, who has read my blog before. The idea that as the price of something goes up, then generally people will demand less of it. This is not rocket science. Also, as the price rises, people will tend to want to supply more of it, as it becomes more profitable to be in the market. This is why when unemployment is low, and the effective minimum wage goes up, more people will be willing to work.   

Most of the solutions to the gun control debate I have seen suggested thus far are on the supply side, and especially the supply of guns. I have heard various ideas that range from banning assault style rifles to, as Yolanda Renee King says, a gun free world. But would any of these ideas actually prevent someone from committing violent acts? Certainly, they would make having guns costlier, thus reducing demand for them, but would that translate to fewer gun related homicides? And would that translate to lower violent crimes in general?

Let’s examine the demand side, and specifically the demand for school shootings (that is what we are talking about right?). Since demand is based on price, my idea is do what we can to make the whole thing costlier for the potential shooter. There are various ways that the price could be increased to the potential perpetrator. The first and most obvious is if the person on the other end of the equation had a gun. I am not speaking of students of course, but rather an armed security officer or even having members of law enforcement on the scene (before the shooting takes place). This would of course bring challenges, but they would have to be weighed against their alternatives. We would have to look at the Tradeoff.

Tradeoffs, or the idea that there is not a perfect solution but that each potential solution carries with it both positive and negative factors, is one of the key tenants to economics. After that, the preferable “solution” is something that can be decided on. One important key though, is that it takes open and honest discussion among the possible alternatives.

How can each of us improve the situation?

The first thing that each of us can do is get to know the facts in their entirety. Pay special attention to those which seem to contradict your current perception of the issue. In addition to this, seek out a friend with the opposite viewpoint. I promise they will not bite. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “Out of three people, one of them is my teacher.” This means that we can learn something from anyone. I heard this definition of humility once that said it was believing that the information you do not know is more important that what you do know.

Ben Balke

Purdue Global University

Website: www.economicsis.com

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