I hate to do this, I really do. Spending valuable time and white space bashing the idiocy of The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle is something I'd prefer to avoid. I've done a lot of it, and always end up feeling like I've wasted a good few hours of my life on whatever meaningless nonsense her Libertarian brain has happened to churn out. But McArdle's recent piece on the massacre at SandyHook elementary school in Newton Connecticut is so ridiculous I felt compelled to go back into the trenches and call her out.
In a laborious 4,000 word article, McArdle argues that there's nothing feasible we can do to prevent another massacre other than, wait for it, train people to run at gunmen rather than cower or run away.
After laying out in excruciating detail why America is set in its ways and cannot be changed, McArdle writes:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.
Where to start on this? Firstly, let's begin with McArdle's main thesis - that change is impossible in America, and everything politicians are proposing would have little to no effect on the insane number of people killed by firearms every year in America. I won't bore you to death with extraordinarily long excerpts from her piece, but the argument is as follows: Americans like guns. You can never take Americans guns away, so any regulation would be pointless because people would always find a way of getting them. You can't identify everyone who is mentally ill, so you couldn't preemptively lock them up or prevent them from committing crimes. You couldn't prevent the media from mentioning the names of the killers to prevent copy cat massacres either because of freedom of speech. So the solution is to do nothing (other than to train children to run at gun wielding maniacs of course).
This is standard Libertarian fare and a favorite debating tactic from free market militants to make the argument that government should never do doing anything ever.
McArdle specializes in finding ways of complicating issues and presenting problems as being so opaque that it would be impossible to craft legislation to help. McArdle spent months defending Wall St after the crash in '08, and amazingly found a way to defend Goldman Sachs after it became clear from a Senate investigation that the investment firm had pawned off toxic investment assets to its clients when it knew full well they were a ticking time bomb. In a debate with Matt Taibbi on CNN's 'Your Money', McArdle stated that it was impossible to figure out what really happened because in her words, "These investments are incredibly complicated and it's hard to know what happened." McArdle went on to argue that while there was probably some dishonesty, it was more of a systemic flaw and no one should have to pay for the gigantic (and well documented) fraud perpetrated on the American public, stating that, "There's a real desire to have a sense of closure on this, a desire to track down a villain, figure out who did this to us, and I think that really under weighs the power of human stupidity. Greed, stupidity, and like poor system design."
In another completely pointless article, McArdle inexplicably waded into the climate change debate and argued that scientific evidence showing a disastrous fall in the numbers of Phytoplankton, (ocean creatures that generate a substantial amount of the world's oxygen) shouldn't be taken too seriously because, again, it's too complicated and open to scientific interpretation. In the much criticized post, she even admits that:
I'm not a fan of tampering with large, complex systems that I don't really understand, which is why I tend not to support much direct government intervention in the economy.
In a thorough rebuttal of all McArdle's points, you can check Brad Johnson's take down here, where he describes McArdle's piece as monumental work of "mindless contrarianism".
More recently, McArdle has argued that low paid WalMart employees shouldn't be asking for more money because, again, it would be too complicated:
Walmart's $446 billion of revenue last year was eye-popping, but its profit margins are far from fat--between 3% to 3.5%. If they cut that down by a percentage point--about what retailers like Costco and Macy's have been bringing in--that would give each Walmart employee about $2850 a year, which is substantial but far from life-changing. Further wage improvements would have to come out of the pockets of Walmart's extremely price conscious shoppers. Which might be difficult, given how many product categories Amazon is pushing into.
Anyone see a common thread here?
McArdle's solution to everything is to basically leave it because it would be difficult to change. People dying of starvation? Food distribution is notoriously tricky, so no point in trying. Crumbling infrastructure? Building roads and bridges is hard, so better not. Inefficient, poorly funded mental health care system? Oy...that's a hard one. Better not let politicians get involved - let's leave it to mysterious market forces to sort it out.
So what of her argument that there's nothing that can be done by the government to seriously dent the horrifying trend of massacres in America? I can't pretend to be an expert on the matter, but it seems reasonable to look for examples around the world where governments introduced serious legislation in the wake of an awful tragedy. Thankfully, Australia provides a very good one, where former conservative prime minister John Howard instituted serious gun control legislation in the wake of a terrifying massacre in Tasmania. From the Washington Post:
One of Howard’s other lasting legacies is Australia’s gun control regime, first passed in 1996 in response to a massacre in Tasmania that left 35 dead. The law banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns. It also instituted a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons.
Australia didn't ban all guns, attempt to gag the media, or radically overhaul mental health services. But what it did do lead to a dramatic decrease in gun related deaths:
So what have the Australian laws actually done for homicide and suicide rates? Howard cites a study (pdf) by Andrew Leigh of Australian National University and Christine Neill of Wilfrid Laurier University finding that the firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent, and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent, in the decade after the law was introduced, without a parallel increase in non-firearm homicides and suicides. That provides strong circumstantial evidence for the law’s effectiveness.
The issue is most certainly complicated, and the evidence not completely clear, but Australia's stats are pretty difficult to argue with. McArdle does acknowledge that more guns do equal more deaths, but believes banning particular types of guns won't do anything. She writes:
It is easy and satisfying to be for "gun control" in the abstract, but we cannot pass gun control, in the abstract. We have to pass a specific law that describes very specifically what people may and may not do. That means we need to carefully specify the features that makes these shootings possible. And unfortunately, the feature is . . . "fires metal pellets at high speed".
You don't need a special kind of gun to shoot civilians.
You just need a gun. A handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle are all pretty deadly at close quarters, and [Adam] Lanza went to the school with all three.
Again, this is a completely meaningless point given Lanza killed everyone with an assault rifle, and not the other two guns. According to a friend of mine, a vet of both Iraq and Afghanistan and an expert sniper, the type of gun you have can make a huge difference in your ability to kill lots of people. Given shot guns need to be reloaded and hand guns don't carry as much magazine as assault rifles, it is unlikely Lanza would have been able to kill nearly as many people in such a short space of time. Regardless, the legislation in Australia banned specific weapons (Martin Bryant used a ColtAR-15semi-automatic rifle to murder 35 people in Tasmania), and saw a huge decrease in gun related deaths thereafter.
So we know that change is possible if there is the political will to make it so.
There's no need to go into McArdle's conclusion. The notion that we should train people to run at mentally disturbed killers with large assault rifles needs no serious rebuttal. I'll leave it to Daily Beast commenter 'ericmferguson' to sum up McArdle's monumentally offensive waste of an article:
"What a serious-sounding attempt to take a pastiche of false assumptions and misinformation to form one of the dumbest conclusions ever."