NRA vs. Gun Control: A Process Argument
Both sides in the gun debate have to accept that the problem can be solved without either side having to lose. We can make guns themselves smarter, so they can't be used against the people who buy them -- or even better, can't be used by people unauthorized to use them. If we ban any gun that isn't so equipped, we should then be able to have guns and be safer.
12/24/12 5:00 AM PT
At the core of any major political argument like gun control or abortion is power. If you believe in Argumentative Theory, these battles are less about actually doing the right thing and more about one side or the other gaining social status.
For instance, right after the Newtown event, Twitter came alive with gun control advocates calling anyone on the other side any number of unacceptable names. This behavior had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with appearing superior and using a tragic event to drive that superiority. However, just pointing this out doesn't address the problem that guns in the U.S. aren't safe, and unless this changes they'll likely be broadly banned here.
Technology and a more pragmatic approach might be able to create a situation where folks could keep guns and be safer. We aren't on that path at the moment -- and unless we get there, we'll repeat the 9/11 mistake: We spent millions making air travel significantly less pleasant and not much safer.
We've developed a series of analytical processes to look at business decisions to ensure they are made better. I figured I'd use a similar practice to explore this topical area and suggest that while both sides of this gun control argument are wrong, as things stand right now, the NRA will likely lose.
I'll close with my product of the week: a book on reputation management that you may want to read while traveling over the holidays.
The NRA Problem
While it is very easy to focus on the children who were killed and use it as the primary reason to ban weapons, that isn't the strongest argument for gun elimination by far. The strongest argument is that the first person allegedly killed was the owner of the guns.
You see the strongest argument for gun ownership isn't the Constitution and the right to bear arms; it is self-defense. Yet with every move we've made to make guns safer in the home, we've reduced their effectiveness for self-defense. Much like a car safety technology that kills drivers, a self-defense tool that is more likely to get the owner killed probably has a limited time in market.
The current tragedy points sharply to this problem. If you have a gun and it is locked up as it should be, with a trigger guard or in a safe, there is a really good chance someone else will get to it before you can, and it will be used against you.
Burglars and kids, who typically have plenty of time, can eventually figure a way around most locks. Much of what we've done to make guns safer over the years has simply made them more likely to be used against you, supporting a future ban. Even if there isn't a ban, folks will eventually come to believe that owning a gun is stupid -- because today, in many ways, it is.
The Argument for Assault Weapons
Now I personally think a ban on assault weapons is stupid, largely because in their civilian form they are relatively ineffective weapons, and if someone is shooting at me I'd rather have them use an ineffective weapon than an effective one.
They are relatively ineffective for three reasons: They were designed to be an automatic because what they lose in accuracy they make up for in the number of rounds they can kick out per second -- at least by design -- yet that feature is disabled in civilian markets so, for a rifle, they are relatively inaccurate.
They have relatively low stopping power and low lethality -- the bullets tend to pass through things. The word "assault" isn't branding -- it is tied to their design. Anyone seen carrying one is immediately branded a threat because an assault weapon has only one use: shooting people. That suggests law enforcement will be on site more quickly if someone sees a person carrying one -- concealed weapons they aren't.
Now if they are stupid as an attack weapon, they are insanely stupid as a defense weapon. Assault weapons typically use a small bullet with a high charge like a .223 round which massively overpenetrates. This means it will go through walls and hit folks you can't see -- likely family members or neighbors. It has low stopping power, which means even if you hit the burglar, you are more likely to just really piss him off than kill him.
You are also more likely to put a gun like this in the safe, which means you probably aren't going to get to it in time -- which, given the first two facts, is actually an advantage. Why buy a gun that sucks for hunting and really should be locked up, which would mean no one, including you, could actually use it?
If you want folks to stop buying assault weapons, just portray them in ads and movies as they really are. People will stop buying them because they are stupid guns. There really is nothing macho about stupid.
Fixing the Problem With Training and Technology
There are two countries the folks for gun control don't want to you look at and one the NRA doesn't want you to look at. The two that the gun control folks don't want you to look at are Switzerland and Israel. Both have very high gun densities and low gun crime.
The one the NRA wants to you avoid is Australia, which instituted massive gun controls and also eliminated much of the problem.
This tells you guns alone aren't the problem. It is the lack of training coupled with guns that creates the issue. If you instituted training, like Israel and Switzerland do, and actively turned gun owners into part of the solution, you could likely eliminate much of the exposure and have a much stronger deterrent for illegal gun use.
However, if you can't turn gun users into a solution, then the better path is to eliminate guns entirely, because that too will solve the problem. It does amaze me that we do a better job ensuring people know how to drive cars than we do ensuring folks know how to properly use and protect the guns they own.
Finally, and this is where technology comes in, we can make guns themselves smarter, so they can't be used against the people who buy them -- or even better, can't be used by people unauthorized to use them. If we ban any gun that isn't so equipped, we should then be able to have guns and be safer.
Biometrics could work well here, but I've seen magnetic rings, a far cheaper technology, work nearly as well. Finally, guns for home protection likely should be vastly different than guns used for hunting or in the military, suggesting major redesigns that focus on their intended use.
However, both sides in the gun debate have to accept that the problem can be solved without either side having to lose.
Putting Gun Companies Out of Business
This doesn't have to end with gun companies, many of which are strong employers and taxpayers in the U.S., going out of business -- but that is clearly the path we are on.
Given how many guns are in market and how many are sold illegally today -- and how understaffed law enforcement is -- I doubt that strong gun controls initially will do anything but make the criminals who have guns safer. Unlike Australia, we aren't surrounded by water.
Through a process of mandatory training, technology and common sense, we should be able not only to make this industry safer, but also turn it from the liability it is into the asset it could be.
Unless the NRA stops stonewalling and becomes part of the solution, it -- and the industry it protects -- will be done. The only win-win here is if guns can be turned into an asset. Anything short of that eventually will put an end to guns as a legal industry in the U.S.
Wrapping Up: Avoiding the Zero Sum
Now this was a process exercise; note how I broke apart both sides' arguments without losing track of the real goal, which isn't winning either side's argument but making people safer while retaining most of the privileges.
In effect, my goal was to showcase how to turn a liability into an asset. If you can realize what the core problem is while setting aside the need for a zero-sum solution that requires the other side to lose absolutely, then you can generally find an approach that will work. That's something to noodle on when you argue about this topic over the holidays.
Special thanks to Bill Clinton who spoke to me about the problem of zero-sum games and the need to find creative win-win solutions for problems like this one.
Product of the Week: Digital Assassination - Protecting Your Reputation, Brand, or Business Against OnLine Attacks
This recently released book focuses on the digital world we live in and how unsafe it is. At any time, almost anyone can take your digital reputation and trash it so badly that you become unemployable.
We actually saw this happen during the Newtown event, when some poor sap with the same name as the shooter had his Social Security Number broadcast and his reputation trashed.
The book goes into some detail on the nature of the problem, recounts actual cases of people who were badly damaged, and then walks through practices you can take to recover your reputation.
Increasingly, your reputation will be your greatest personal asset in a digital world. If you don't learn how to protect it, then you may lose that reputation, and with it much of your career potential.
This week, my themes are safety and problem solving. Because the book Digital Assassination, by Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis, is on topic in the world I mostly live in -- the digital world -- it is my product of the week.