Guns and Freedom and Cars and Stuff
(this is my reply to a friend of mine who asked me to review their letter to the editor in a local paper)
E, my background is systems engineering and product design, so I like to figure out systems and how they work and then how to make them work better. The general area of Public Policy is very interesting since it is the same kind of design process applied to a sociatal system. You set up the rules and then let the system function within the scope of the rules that have been set. The challenging part is that when people are involved, they all try to use the rules to maximize their own advantage. Thus, the logic they use and speak with is usually tinted with their own strategy within the rule set. They have "hidden agendas".
They also make unanticipated choices (usually subconcious, or at least
not explicity concious) such as a young girl who gets pregnant because the system to take care of pregnant girls is much more advantageous that the system that takes care of non-pregnant girls. Thus, people change their behaviour based on their overall perception of which choices will be most to thier advantage. If jail is more comfortable
than home, the choice is easy. Go to jail. If the welfare system offers
advantages over the "go-to-work-every-day" system, then quit work and go on welfare.
Then there are systems within systems. Like the transportation system, and the automotive system within the transportation system. The automotive system of transportation requires that at least 10 out of the top 100 companies in the country be dedicated to the production
and operation (fuel) of the automotive transportation system. Then you
can throw in the maintenance and building of roads, bridges highways etc. In total it probably represents a good portion of our gross national product. My guess is that it is more than 20% but probably less than 40%. This includes trucks and the trucking system sinch they operate
on the same roads and contribute to the total number of human lives that have to be sacrificed to the gods each year to continue the operation of the system.
We are shocked that the Mayans would sacrifice a few virgins to the gods each year to insure their crops. Yet we sacrifice about 45,000 people (virgin and otherwise) each year to the gods of transport. It used to be nearly 60,000 before the big safety campaigns started. Between inproved design and the 55mph speed limit, the rate of
sacrifice was reduced. Now the product design is good enough that even the increased speed limit hasn't significantly increased the expenditure of lives needed to operate the system.
Another set of interconnected systems we operate with human lives are the systems for personal protection, public safety and sport and entertainment. Their comment link is the firearms used to take the lives. Again it is a lottery system where the sacrificeees are randomly selected by chance and the number is slightly less than the number required to operate the automotive transpotation system.
However, the technology is about 140 years old, developed for killing
people during the unCivil War. The only innovations taking place since the development of the cartidge have been automatic fire and smokeless powder. The former requiring the latter to be effective.
By the way, I just found out the other day that the Duponts made a great deal of their fortune during World War I when the United States Army finally adoped smokeless powder and Dupont manufactured it without paying any of the formerly German held patent fees.
The other innovations in gun design are related to ease of handling and
use. The cartridge pistols of the unCivil War period weighed nearly 8 poulds and had to hand cocked with a strong thumb. The used of composit materials has reduced the weight to less than a pound
and the cocking mechanism is simply sliding the top of the gun back with the other hand. It is so simple, easy and light that a child could do it, which is of course, the point.
The only new, revolutionary invention in firearm design that I know of
is one by an Australian guy called the Metal Storm Gun (i think). It is electrically fired and the projectiles and explosive charges are stacked in the barrels in layers. Each layer can be triggered independantly. In the case of full automatic fire, the projectiles can be placed in the air at intervals of about 6 inches apart. When used in configurations of many
barrels, this creates an array of metal flying through the air at a few
thousand feet per second, is fully controlled, rifled flight, which could have a range of thousands of yards. Truely, a storm of metal. Should be quite effective in big game hunting, or killing people, since we use the same instruments for both.
But this brings up the point of design goals. What is it we are really
trying to achieve with these designs. We have a system. We have individual products. The products are firearms. The system is an undefined composite of sport, personal protection, and military
arms. What are the objectives? Do these systems really need to use the same products and technologies? What are we trying to do??????
The more I write about this the more I am beginning to see how
convoluted the whole mess is! Does the means of personal protection need to be lethal? Is it a disadvantage for the military to only have lethal weapons? Do law enforcement official need only lethal
weapons. If someone threatens you with lethal force, what are your
options? Not many.
I think they whole system which we have put in place, however
inadvertantly, needs to be analyzed. We have to know what we have now, before we can figure out how to redesign it. For example, many people carry firearms because they fear for their lives. Why? Why do
they fear for their lives? Is it because there is a clear and present
danger to their lives? Or is it because the people who are the threat are not controlled by law enforcement. Is it because the only deterrent to threats of lethal force is a threat of incarceration. This of course is an empty threat, because it requires the concurrance of the judicial
system with the law enforcement to agree on punishment. The judge and the jury have to agree with the district attourney, before the policeman's threat can be upheld. The is the equivalent of no threat at all!
This system is unworkable from a systems engineers perspective. The
goals are contradictory. This is not unusual in system design, often design conflicts occur. Automobiles should provide the occupants with crash protection and also be able to get high fuel milage. These are conflicting design objectives.
But this system may be different in the sense that the proposed changes may be effecting the system in way that make the system unstable. If citizens think they need guns for protection, and the government says thay they will limit guns. A rational option for citizens to run out and buy more guns before the rules change and limit their access to guns. This behavior, of course results in more more guns and more people getting hurt in accidents.
How are they the same? Approx 40,000 people a year die in each. How
many injured) How are they different? Cars use 20 to 40 $ of the Gross Nat Product.
What belongs to each system.
Highways, Gas/Oil Industry, Auto Manufacturers, Parts Manuf. Industry .
Gun Manufacturers, U.S. Military, Police/Law Enforcement, Judicial, Legal, Prison system.
General Motors,Crystler, Ford, Shell Oil, Texaco, Exxon etc., Catapiller Tractor, OPEC. Peterbuilt, International Harvester, Mack Truck, U.S. Dept of Transport, Sate Highway Depts. Highway Patrol, Local Police, Seagrams, Jack Danials, Coors, (so drivers will have something to drink) MADD, etc. etc. etc.
Ruger, Colt, Smith & Wesson, Police, U.S. Army, Gun Shops, Gun Shows, Defense Lawyers, District Attorney, Criminal Courts, Prisons, Schools (where threats are made), Drugs (whose users feel threatened by both the government and by their dealers who want payment),
Drug Envorcement Agency, Department of Alcohol, Tobaco & Firearms. State & Local Police.
Of course, when Alcohol, Guns and Cars all get mixed together, the
rusult is pretty hostile. And also, of course, both of these systems are powered by thier percieved ability to deliver freedom to the user. The car gives anyone the freedom to go anywhere one wants to go. The gun gives the same "anyone" the freedom to go "anywhere" and not fear for their life.
There seems to be some sort of paradox here. The loss of freedom is due to the exercise of freedom. You figure it out!
Since I just got back from Los Angeles, I know what happens when
everyone has and car and uses it. Even at 5:00 AM the traffic was unbelievable. But at least everyone didn't have a gun. I didn't see a single gun the entire trip. Lots and lots of cars and no guns.
It seems that the car/transport system is economically far bigger than
the gun/threat sytem. Even, if one considers all of the military with the gun/threat system, I think the cars/transport is bigger. All the hunters in the country, and all their game, and all of their expenditures would seem to me to be just a few billion dollars.
The guns themselves can't be worth very much, again a few billion. The
car/transport system has to be measured in trillions. There is something wrong here. Maybe it is the threat side of the equation. When everyone carried guns, a hundred years ago, most people were polite and had good manners. Maybe if children thought that their teacher represented any threat, they would be polite and not challange
and threaten each other. Wyatt Earp had phenominal success as Marshall in Wichita because he used his gun to hit mis-behaving cowboys over the head. I don't think he ever shot anyone in Wichita.
He got fired because some of the townspeople felt his technique of
discipline was hurting their business. The next Town Marshall was a really nice guy and was dead within a year.
To me, the THREAT side of the equation seems more important than the GUN side. I can't see that the gun gives near the utility of the car, yet it takes as many lives each year. The whole system needs to be fixed and somehow, I think the schools are the base of the behavior system. I think there are a lot more threats thrown around than any of us (older gen) have any idea about. I think these threats are taken seriously by those threatened. The action they take, getting a gun, is taken because they see no real options. Could they tell the principle? They know he is a powerless as their teacher.
If they can't guarantee the child free from threats on the way to and
from school, and on the campus at school, then the threatened child will see the gun as her only option. That, or get pregnant. Oh, I forgot. The school guarantees free condoms. An you ask, what is wrong with this picture?
And yes, I thought you wrote a good letter. Thanks for sharing it.
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