Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nitpicking NPR

In Robert Siegel's interview with Dean Allen Youngman, director of the Defense Small Arms Advisory Council, the following exchange occurred:
SIEGEL: You spent a career in the military. Do you see legitimate uses for AK-47 and M16 derivatives in civilian hands?
YOUNGMAN: Robert, I think we have to start in that issue by looking at, you know, the fundamental nature of firearms. At one level or another, all firearms were designed for war.
SIEGEL: But there are boundaries here. For example, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher is a weapon designed for war. There seems to be a broad consensus that it shouldn't be available to any consumer to buy in the country. When we come down to the semiautomatic weapons derived from combat rifles, can one draw a line that excludes those from the consumer market?
YOUNGMAN: Well, I think there is some hint that the answer to that question was in the Supreme Court decision Heller v. District of Columbia. I think Justice Scalia talked in terms of those that are unusual, uncommon as opposed to those that are in common usage. Our meeting this morning, we did an informal estimate of, you know, how many semiautomatic, magazine-fed rifles do we think there are out there currently in this country. Depending on how you define it, the answer is probably somewhere between four and eight million. And that obviously means that they are very, you know, very common. These are not unusual weapons.
SIEGEL: But your members sell these weapons in the U.S. consumer market. There's a pitch for them, obviously. There's advertising for them. Are they needed? Are they necessary for some people?
Robert Siegel really missed an opportunity here on the follow-up.  I mean look at this juicy morsel:
[...]Depending on how you define it, the answer is probably somewhere between four and eight million. And that obviously means that they are very, you know, very common. These are not unusual weapons.

What?  How does that argument NOT set off all kinds of BS alarms?  Siegel should have pursued this line further, with something like:
SIEGEL: But even 8 million out of at least 270 million civilian firearms is not very abundant - and some might argue that those 8 million wouldn't be in circulation had the 1994 assault weapons band been written more tightly and not allowed to expire.  What really makes something "common"?  And if there isn't a clear-cut definition that includes these semi-automatic assault rifles, then, legally, why couldn't Congress ban them and let the courts decide later if they overreached?
The point is to see if the guy will say that yes, it's legally possible to ban assault weapons.  He doesn't want to say it.  Maybe determining legality isn't the most critical issue, but there's still tension here - and that tension makes the interview interesting.  So don't let go of it!  It's particularly heartbreaking because Siegel had already gotten through the prepared answers the guy had to that question.  Keep pressing him and you get him reasoning on his feet, which is when the best stuff happens.

Infotain me better, Siegel!

Here's how I do that interview:



ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Joining me from Las Vegas, where he's attending the annual SHOT Show, a firearms industry trade convention, is retired Army Major General D. Allen Youngman. He is now the executive director of the Defense Small Arms Advisory Council. Welcome to the program, General Youngman.
DEAN ALLEN YOUNGMAN: Thank you, Robert. Good to be here.
SIEGEL: You've taken part in some of the meetings with Vice President Biden in recent weeks. Your organization is made up of companies that manufacture weapons both for military and civilian purchase. First, generally, what do you think of what the president proposes on military-style guns?
YOUNGMAN: Well, I thought it was interesting that he didn't lead with that. He'd led with the idea of making the National Instant Check System broader and more accessible to those who want to determine if the person they're selling a firearm to is legally prohibited from buying or owning one.
In terms of the assault weapons ban, obviously, we need to see what the details look like. It's a little bit kind of a retro thing. If you look at the ban in 1994, I think the dominant factor in Congress not taking it up again is the fact that as the National Institute of Justice's 2004 study showed there was just no particular benefit from it.
SIEGEL: It's worth noting though that the 1994 ban only limited the sale of semi-automatic rifles with two or more so-called military-style attachments.  Does that 2004 study speculate on what the efficacy might have been if, say, rifles with only one military-style attachment had also been banned?  How was efficacy measured in that study?
YOUNGMAN: [BS-y answer because he probably hasn't even read the study] 
SIEGEL: You spent a career in the military. Do you see legitimate uses for AK-47 and M16 derivatives in civilian hands?
YOUNGMAN: Robert, I think we have to start in that issue by looking at, you know, the fundamental nature of firearms. At one level or another, all firearms were designed for war.
SIEGEL: But there are boundaries here. For example, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher is a weapon designed for war. There seems to be a broad consensus that it shouldn't be available to any consumer to buy in the country. When we come down to the semiautomatic weapons derived from combat rifles, can one draw a line that excludes those from the consumer market?
YOUNGMAN: Well, I think there is some hint that the answer to that question was in the Supreme Court decision Heller v. District of Columbia. I think Justice Scalia talked in terms of those that are unusual, uncommon as opposed to those that are in common usage. Our meeting this morning, we did an informal estimate of, you know, how many semiautomatic, magazine-fed rifles do we think there are out there currently in this country. Depending on how you define it, the answer is probably somewhere between four and eight million. And that obviously means that they are very, you know, very common. These are not unusual weapons.
SIEGEL: But even 8 million out of at least 270 million civilian firearms is not very abundant - and some might argue that those 8 million wouldn't be in circulation had the 1994 assault weapons band been written more tightly and not allowed to expire.  What really makes something "common"?  And if there isn't a clear-cut definition that includes these semi-automatic assault rifles, then, legally, why couldn't Congress ban them and let the courts decide later if they overreached?
YOUNGMAN: [grumbly admission or fluffy/subject-change-y dodge - follow up as needed]
SIEGEL: But your members sell these weapons in the U.S. consumer market. There's a pitch for them, obviously. There's advertising for them. Are they needed? Are they necessary for some people?
YOUNGMAN: Are they necessary? I think you open an element of the dialogue there that just really doesn't help, you know? Somebody who is going to - you ask them that and they're going to say, whether I need it or not is no one else's business. The question is can I own it responsibly, legally? Am I hurting anybody with it? And if the answer is no, then that tends to end their participation in the debate, you know? Four to eight million of them are already out there. How many are used in crimes? Well, if you look at last year, some 6,000 firearms homicides.
The FBI figure for 2011 was 323 homicides were accomplished with any form of rifle, semiautomatic or otherwise. You know, that's cold comfort to the parents of Sandy Hook, obviously. There's nothing we can say to them that would, you know, take away the hurt. But you start looking at society-wide solutions, is that a high payoff target?
SIEGEL: But let's go back to the point earlier about what kinds of weapons are allowed or not.  We noted earlier that rocket-propelled grenade launchers are not allowed for civilian use.  Things like fully automatic weapons are banned.  But no one protests that they can't use those weapons for recreation or protection.  The broader question is what function do these semi-automatic assault weapons perform that couldn't be served, for instance, by a handgun or hunting rifle?
YOUNGMAN: [pause and then BS]
SIEGEL: I'd also like to return to your point earlier where you questioned whether banning assault weapons was a "high payoff target".  Why does it have to be "high payoff"?  Isn't a low payoff still a payoff?  I guess the point is if you can use a handgun for protection, long rifles or shotguns for hunting, and either one for recreation, what's the matter with getting rid of assault weapons?  The President, for instance, would argue that taking an action that would save even one life is worthwhile.
YOUNGMAN: [dunno but I'd really like to hear it!!!!!]
SIEGEL: What do you say to a listener who hears you and says the gun manufacturers on your council, they don't care about the Second Amendment. What they really care about is they don't want to see a market of 300 million guns in private hands in the U.S. start shrinking because their sales and profits will shrink. This is just about money. It's about business.
YOUNGMAN: Well, I think we can anticipate some people are going to say that. And honestly, there's a couple of ways to look at it. One is that our primary customers are the United States military. And our number one goal as an industry is to ensure that they have the best available small arms to employ in defense of this country.
But the second point is that we, you know, we're citizens too. We're parents. We're grandparents. We have the same shared sense of devastation after Sandy Hook. In fact, that's why I accepted the invitation to go to the White House. We were hoping to hear new and more effective ideas on how we can reduce that.
One of the points of discussion with the vice president was that he had said he had met with the other side the day before. And we took issue with that. You know, there is no other side in this debate, and we all would like to see effective means of keeping guns out of the wrong hands. We may just disagree on what, you know, what those most effective means are.
SIEGEL: Well, Major General Youngman, thank you very much for talking with us today.
YOUNGMAN: OK. Well, thank you, Robert.



5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Heard the same interview; had the same reactions at the same spots. It's eerie, almost like we're related.

    Dad

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    Replies
    1. NPR (and all interviewers) ought to either budget more time for interviews or be content with broaching less topics. Otherwise you end up with discontented listeners like us shaking our heads and gesticulating at the radio.

      and yes, very eerie...

      Delete
  3. How did you know i was gesticulating?

    ReplyDelete