Some people are saying Joan Peterson is lying or that she simply doesn’t know how to avoid a question she can’t answer. I think there are alternate hypotheses that fit the facts better. First let’s examine what she actually said: Sean D Sorrentino:
“Joe- this is a new one. So, reduced gun deaths isn’t safer from the public? Please explain.”
he already did. Let’s do a thought experiment. there is a room with 100 people. in one room there is a gun, and one person will be killed with it. 1 death per hundred, 1 “gun death” per hundred. in another room there are no guns, just a knife. 2 people will be killed. 2 deaths per hundred, but 0 “gun deaths.” which is “safer?” Using the metric “gun death” doesn’t tell you the total rate.
Huh? totally missed this logic. I don’t think there is any there.
This was after I had tried, and failed, to get the point across several times with these comments:
I am interested in actualities not potentialities. My point is that we should, and probably can, agree on replicating laws that produce clear, measurable, results that make societies safer with no appreciable risk and low cost. If the goal of anti-gun activists is to improve public safety then they should agree, and would get agreement from the pro-gun side, that if a law cannot be shown to provide benefits with low risk and reasonable cost it should not be replicated and in fact should be repealed. Because it has been repeatedly shown that gun laws do not measurably improve public safety, and have non-zero risk and cost yet anti-gun activists do not agree to repeal ineffective laws we question the claimed motive to improve public safety. There must be some other motive for increasing restrictions on weapons.
You are avoiding the question again. The question is whether such laws made them safer. Not whether such laws reduced the “gun deaths”. This has been pointed out before here, if in response to firearms restrictions the criminal homicide using a firearm goes to zero but the total homicide and violent crime rate doubles then society has not been made safer. If more innocent life is taken or permanently injured I take no consolation in the fact that no firearms was involved. So again, where is the data that shows any restriction on person weapon ownership has made the average person safer?
just because there are fewer criminal uses of firearms does not mean the public is safer. Violent crime may increase even though firearms are not involved. The hypothesis to explain this unexpected (by some) results is that restrictions on the access of firearms may in fact enable crime because the victims are less able to defend themselves. To the best of my knowledge there are zero peer reviewed studies that clearly show increasing restrictions on firearms has resulted in decreased violent crime. There are indications that criminal use of firearms has decreased but violent crime without a weapon or the substituting of different weapons increased to at least equal the benefits of the decrease in the crimes enabled by the firearms. Hence, a decrease in the criminal use of firearms does not result in an increase in public safety.
Again, her response to Sean, was:
Huh? totally missed this logic. I don’t think there is any there.
The claim is that this insistence that she doesn’t understand the point we are trying to make is a lie. The supporters of this hypothesis claim, “she is either so incredibly stupid it’s a wonder she’s not in an institution or she’s just lying.“ Those same thoughts certainly go through my mind too. I think there are alternate hypotheses which fit the facts just as well if not better. One hypothesis put forth is cognitive dissonance. While this is possible I think that is unlikely. Cognitive dissonance frequently manifests itself in an increase in proselyting, as she has, but it requires social support. She does have some social support by way of her involvement with various anti-gun groups but I don’t think she is sufficiently isolated from the rest of the world such that the support from those organizations in sufficient. In an Internet world with dozens of people posting comments on your own blog that you cannot avoid the social support for false beliefs is going to be seriously undermined. I think a better hypothesis is a total lack of knowledge, and perhaps ability, on how to distinguish truth from falsity. This does not necessarily mean stupid. Some examples might help:
We would consider such a trial and execution of a thing as a demonstration of medieval ignorance. Yet the deodand law was not removed from England’s lawbooks until the last century. Medieval England was not the first place where the object was blamed for crimes. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell cites similar customs from Africa to New Guinea, to biblical times. Old habits die hard, and the deodand rule exists to this day.
December 22, 1987
Deodand Law from The Gun Rights War, pages 112 and 113.
See also here.
From Guns in Hell:
The mother had come to watch the gun that was used to kill her son be sawed into pieces in an acrid plume of white-hot sparks. Ms. DeCambra’s act of witness was made possible by a law Maine enacted in 2001 that requires handguns used in homicides to be destroyed when they are no longer needed for evidence. Before that, guns were often sold or auctioned by police departments to raise money for other equipment. … Maine’s law came about because of Debbie O’Brien, a Kennebunk woman whose 20-year-old son, Devin, was shot to death in 1996. When she learned that the state police would probably sell the gun used to kill her son, Ms. O’Brien said her reaction was, “Oh, my God, the police are here to help you and the next thing you know they’re turning around and selling a gun, making money off my dead son.” Ms. O’Brien lobbied for the proposed law, saying that she told the state police, “Look, if you need money, let’s do bake sales.” “You’re in hell,” she said. “You’re just struggling to have a life, and then I realized that would include the gun.”
Haruspex from Wikipedia:
Human sacrifice has been practiced on a number of different occasions and in many different cultures. The various rationales behind human sacrifice are the same that motivate religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice is intended to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods, for example in the context of the dedication of a completed building like a temple or bridge. There is a Chinese legend that there are thousands of people entombed in the Great Wall of China. In ancient Japan, legends talk about Hitobashira (“human pillar”), in which maidens were buried alive at the base or near some constructions as a prayer to ensure the buildings against disasters or enemy attacks. For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they killed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days. According to Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, “between 10,000 and 80,400 persons” were sacrificed in the ceremony. Human sacrifice Wikipedia This test typically required that the accused walk a certain distance, usually nine feet, over red-hot plowshares or holding a red-hot iron. Innocence was sometimes established by a complete lack of injury, but it was more common for the wound to be bandaged and reexamined three days later by a priest, who would pronounce that God had intervened to heal it, or that it was merely festering – in which case the suspect would be exiled or executed. Ordeal of fire Wikipedia In Roman and Etruscan religious practice, a haruspex (plural haruspices; Latin auspex, plural auspices) was a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, hepatoscopy or hepatomancy. Haruspicy is the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry. The rites were paralleled by other rites of divination such as the interpretation of lightning strikes, of the flight of birds (augury), and of other natural omens.
It’s not just ancient people either. More recently:
There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason… Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.
I asked them, “If a belief you held was shown to be irrational would you abandon that belief?” Any rational person would only find one answer to this question, I was sure of it. One by one my classmates shared their answers going around the circle. They would speak in quiet voices and talk in circles as if they didn’t have any determination behind their words. It was clear I had made them very uncomfortable and that they weren’t sure what to believe. I was proud of my question, maybe I had finally managed to get these students to think and question their own beliefs. Then it came time for my teacher to answer, he sat up straight in his chair and spoke in his soft but wise voice. I only remember one sentence that he said in his answer, it is forever etched in my mind. “Just because something is irrational doesn’t mean you don’t have to believe in it.”
Summer of 2002 Manuscript Speech Comm 101
No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.
Nationally syndicated advice columnist and Director of Handgun Control, Inc.
These people do not know, and perhaps are incapable of knowing, how to distinguish truth from falsity. Furthermore, as evidenced by that last quote by Ann Landers and the quote by Martin Luther, they are sometimes of the opinion that empirical evidence and reason are counterproductive to valid belief systems. You cannot dismiss these examples as things that happened a millennia or three ago by ignorant superstitious people. These examples include a law passed in Maine in 2001. I realize how crazy this sounds to most people but it is my hypothesis that some people who appear to be normal functioning members of society simply do not or cannot determine truth from falsity. Even through repeated application of the evidence and the reasoning supporting falsification of their beliefs these people continue to hold on to ideas that are conclusively shown to be false. I believe Joan Peterson is one of those people. For example, she apparently cannot distinguish a hypothesis from a conclusion. When I repeatedly asked for evidence that some law restricting weapons resulted in a safer society she responded with this:
We do know that the Brady Law has prevented about 1.7 prohibited purchasers from buying guns.
[Please substitute “1.7 million” for “1.7”. I’m giving her a pass on this error.]
The hypothesis is that prohibiting people who fail background checks from purchasing firearms will make people safer. She concludes that some large number of failed background check is success. But a failed background check is actually part of the hypothesis. Paul Helmke and others at the Brady Campaign do the exact same thing. It is also what is done by gun control advocates in Canada in regards to the long gun registry. The unspoken hypothesis is that frequent access of the registry will benefit society. The gun control advocates proudly claim frequent access of the registry is proof of it’s benefits. Peterson’s sloppy thinking continues:
To me it proves that if we require background checks on all gun sales, we can prohibit people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them.
Read that sentence a time or four. Perhaps she really meant “prevent” instead of “prohibit”. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt on that her “proof” has holes in it that Mexican drug traffickers can (and perhaps do) drive semi-trucks through. And I don’t think we should give her the benefit of the doubt on using the wrong word in that sentence. Here is another example from the same post:
4. Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?
5. If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?
As pointed out by Joel (via Tam):
The question is incoherent. “Banning” requires no physical action at all, and is quite simple to do. Even Clinton managed it. If you mean confiscation, well, there you’ve got a problem. Were you really coming to me for suggestions?
Now read a half dozen or more of her posts. Her thinking is filled with things like this. She is frequently incoherent. She cannot distinguish the difference between intentions and results. If she is a liar she would not repeatedly make these kind of mistakes. Or if she is a liar then she is very very smart and skilled to consistently use the same sort of tool without ever slipping up. I claim it is not necessarily and in fact probably isn’t stupidity. If this were stupidity then this sort of faulty thinking would not continually show up throughout human history even with people that are exceedingly well respected. Every age and society has stupid people in it and they are easily recognized and the instances of them being well respected are exceedingly rare.
This is some other type of mental disorder. This mental disorder can be, and has been, easily detected. Ask the question, “What is the process by which you determine truth from falsity?” People suffering from this mental disorder not only won’t be able to supply an answer but frequently cannot even understand the question. The question is nonsensical to them.
They are lacking a thinking process. Hence, by necessity, they fail to process information. Asking them to supply a process when they are totally unaware of the existence of such a concept results in the same sort of difficulty as asking a person blind since birth what color the walls are. They have no common basis with the questioner such that they can even understanding the question. This is the same sort of response we get from her. She cannot understand concepts that to us are intuitively, blindingly, demonstrably, obvious. It is nearly impossible for us to believe that she does not understand what we are saying.
But if she were blind you would not claim she was stupid or a liar if she did not know the color of the wall. With all due respect to those that claim she is being “coy”, has poor arguing skills, or is a liar, I think this is unfair and unjust. She is lacking a thinking process or has a process failure.
Update (October 13, 2010): A name has been given to this mental defect. In honor of Ms. Peterson it is now called “Peterson Syndrome“.
Update (June 14, 2012): Cognitive distortion is probably the term used by psychologist to describe this mental problem. There may be some therapies which offer some hope for these people. But from talking to a therapist about this the patients tend to be very resistive and insist there is nothing wrong with them. Also of interest is that she told me these sort of problems are worse or may only show up in close personal relationships. It would be very interesting to talk to Ms. Peterson’s husband about these things.