Sunday, February 24, 2008

Response to Mike Allen

In today's opinion page of the Lexington Herald-Leader Mike Allen started out his article (link will expire in a week or so) by making more sense than most people who are heavily involved in the gun control debates. He takes the reasonable stance that neither allowing conceal and carry permits to apply everywhere nor legislating much more restrictive gun permits are going to do anything to stop school shootings. Honestly, I can only see either of those types of legislation being effective if they were taken to their utmost extremes. If we were to force everyone to be armed at all times or if we had a nationwide purge of all firearms, that might be sufficient to effect the number of school shootings. Anything short of that is laughable and even those options would have many other unintended and likely negative consequences.

In any case, Mike Allen starts out talking sense . . . until a couple of paragraphs later he goes off the rails in an unexpected way. He goes straight from making a reasonable and well thought out argument to suddenly blaming school shootings on an imaginary "unraveling of the family, the general devaluing of human life and the rise of violence in popular entertainment." Allen fails to give any evidence that any of those three things are actually occurring in American society and instead expects us to accept them as givens. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much reason to accept these givens. Let's take them one by one:

1. Unraveling of the Family - The divorce rate has been going down since the early eighties. Even the number of single parents has started dropping in the last few years. There is also a huge argument to be made that a single parent family does not necessarily equal an unstable family life. There are plenty of stable couples raising children who simply choose to remain unmarried (or cannot do so legally in the case of homosexual couples) and there are truly single parents who are professional adults and doing just fine with their family life. In any case, you're going to have to give me some specific arguments to back up what seems to be an unfounded idea of an unraveling of US families.

2. General Devaluing of Human Life - So apparently Allen is a pro-lifer. If not, he's going to have to explain what the hell he's talking about here. The last I checked people still thought murder was bad and were shocked and saddened by recent school shootings. The vast majority of people were not randomly killing each other. In fact, the violent crime rate has been steadily decreasing for decades. I suppose if you want to call every abortion a murder then those numbers change quite a bit, but that's a whole different argument. Even if you want to consider abortion, keep in mind that the abortion rate is at a 30 year low. Allen does nothing to expand on this argument, so maybe he realizes it's a little silly.

3. The Rise of Violence in Popular Entertainment - This is the only one of Allen's argument that has any sort of evidence to support it and even that evidence is pretty shaky. It's hard to objectively decide whether violence in popular entertainment has been increasing, but I will admit that it seems quite likely. Video games have become "more violent" or at least more realistically violent as the images have become clearer and gained in resolution. Movies have had violence in them for quite some time and technology may have once again increased that level by using CGI instead of more expensive special effects. The link between violent media and real world violence has, however, not been definitively shown to exist. As I mentioned before, general violent crime has decreased which I would not expect if violent media caused violence. School shootings seem to be one of the very few types of crimes that have actually increased and I don't recall seeing a rash of school shooting movies or video games recently. Allen is going to have to give me some more definitive evidence than a Saw tattoo on the NIU shooter before I accept this as a causal relationship.

So Allen's school shooting causes seem to be largely imaginary with perhaps a little wiggle room left in that violent media argument. So what solution does he propose to these "problems." Well, it turns out his solutions are largely imaginary as well. He is "not advocating governmental censorship, but rather a renewed awareness in the entertainment industry that rights bring responsibilities, and a heightened conscience for all of us consumers who determine with our dollars what a civil society will and will not accept." Yeeeahhh, good luck with that, buddy. Assuming that increasing amounts of violent media is a real problem for a minute, why do you think that media might be increasing? As I mentioned, it's partly an issue of increasing technology, but it's also because consumers keep buying it. I understand that you are trying to change that trend with this column, but one column does not a successful economic model topple. Without governmental regulation or a huge self-imposed set of industry guidelines, this anti-violent movement is doomed to fail.

Good luck with your fight, I've got to go shoot me some aliens and government agents in Half-Life 2 and then I'm gonna watch me that movie 300. Yee-haw!

No comments: