Sterilization vs Immunization

I’m about to torture an analogy to death, but bear with me…

The shooting in New York yesterday got me to thinking about the way our society treats guns and the crazy idea that we can somehow create a “bubble” of safety which is free from all harmful elements.

For some time now I’ve thought about violent crime in a way similar to disease.  The agents of the disease can be thought of as malevolent microorganisms that are damaging the host organism by harming the individual cells that make up the whole.  We can choose a couple of alternative ways of dealing with this problem: 1) sterilization (the boy in the bubble method), and 2) immunization (distributing the means of counterattack and prevention throughout the body).  I am of the opinion that the second option, as related to a distributed defense (i.e. a pack not a herd, to borrow a phrase) is ultimately better. 

The first option, sterilization, means attempting to prevent the disease causing elements from even getting into the body.  In real life this is manifested in airport screening, metal detectors at courthouse entrances, gun-free school zones, the federal statute against having a gun in a postal facility, etc.  From my vantage point these methods have not only failed miserably, but they make the problem worse, since they create zones of increased vulnerability.  In fact, we seem to see more cases of mass shootings in gun-free zones.  I tend to think that this occurs because the killers, while mad or insane, do engage in some calculation about the relative chances for success of their plans.  Especially when they’re trying to make a big splash.  Which would make more noise in the press?  A story about a mass murder or a story about an armed citizen stopping an attacker (no need to answer that one, since we know how the media will report each one already).  There will always be holes in the “bubble” that will be exploited by those with evil intent.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that a perfect barrier is not possible (if you think it is possible, solve the problem of drugs getting into prisons first and get back to me).

Immunization is not necessarily a perfect defense.  It requires distribution of the means to respond to the threat throughout the body of the people.  It does not always work.  There may even be times when innocent people are killed.  This is comparable to real immunization, where a vaccine sometimes kills people.  Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where there are no perfect solutions.  But this does have the advantage of not having to rely on the convenient fiction that it’s possible to screen out all threats and live happily within a bubble.  While microorganisms can’t think or weigh the consequences of their actions, criminals sometimes do.  Not only does having a distributed defense allow for swift preventative action against criminals, it can act as a deterrent, lowering the chances of success and dissuading some from committing certain types of crimes.  And for those criminals who don’t get the message, it removes them from the pool of criminals, so they won’t be around to commit future crimes.

Would an armed citizen have been able to stop yesterday’s shooting?  I don’t know.  Apparently there was also a cop there, but he was not able to react until it was too late.  But according to the accounts I read there were other people, private citizens who were disarmed by the state, who saw the shooter before he started shooting.  If one of them had been armed, perhaps the concilman would still be with us (and arguing for more gun control, as he was wont to do).

I made the decision some time ago to take responsibility for my own protection.  I don’t intend to rely on others to protect me.  But more than that, I know that I can’t rely on others to protect me.  Police have no duty to protect any individual citizen.  Those who advocate calling 911 and sitting back to “let the police handle it” are missing an important point.  Once you call 911, what are you going to do until the police get there?  Talk to them?  Throw the phone and run?  Face it: you’re on your own.

I take this responsibility seriously.  I go to the range at least once a week.  It takes time and money (I probably spend $30 to $40 per week on range fees and ammo).  But I consider it an investment well spent. 

Understandably, not everyone is ready to make this kind of decision.  I won’t be so crude as to imply that these people aren’t citizens, as some over-the-top pro-gun advocates have done.  However, I would caution these people to get out of the way of the rest of us.  The doctrine of prior restraint against law-abiding citizens is getting people killed.


  1. Fuz says:

    [Would an armed citizen have been able to stop yesterday’s shooting? I don’t know.]  Gunsite email list members report that the victim himself was armed, lawfully under a CCW license. 

    He didn’t stop the shooting because the shooter had approached him with a flag of truce.  The victim walked him into the secured area, using an entrance that circumvented the security screening.

  2. I’d heard that the victim was armed, but I didn’t know if that was true or not (it wouldn’t surprise me, given that he was an advocate of gun control—that seems to be a common theme with them: do as I say, not as I do).

    I guess this would be a good lesson to maintain at least condition yellow at all times.  It sounds like the councilman allowed himself to be tricked into letting his guard down. 

    But I still wonder if an armed bystander could have prevented this.  I suppose we’ll never know, since pigs will fly before New York changes its gun control laws.

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