In Proportion

Show me a proportionality – an output increasing directly with an input – and I’ll show you one cornerstone of most good analyses.

Proportions are simple; proportions mean that the more we put in, the more we get out; proportions make apparent the impact of turning an input off or on; proportions help us accept results because they are very believable.

Even complex models are often constructed from a set of proportionalities working in combination.  We may ultimately move on from proportional thinking in our model, but proportionality is usually a good place to start.

Which brings me to the topic of guns, and their now commonplace application in dispute resolution.

On any given day, the number of angry and unstable people will be about the same, and the number of such people who desire to terminate their imagined adversaries — whether they be college students, grade school kids, politicians playing baseball, or just  random people – is also about the same.

On the other hand, the number of people executing their plans will be proportional to the number of people equipped with weapons for execution.   Without weapons, no one gets shot, and one person’s bad day doesn’t become a bad day for anyone else in reach of one gun’s bullet.

And with weapons? Well, we know the results. After the latest shootings yesterday in the Washington DC area, some argued that the problem of excessive shootings is best resolved by making more weapons available.   Proportional reasoning would dispute that:  should someone start shooting there will be proportionally more people ready and able to fire back, with proportionally more wounded or dead people as a result.

Still, when it comes to weapons and shootings, is proportional reasoning somehow wrong? Is there a deterrent effect when a deranged person enters a schoolyard with intent to kill, and every teacher, administrator and student over the third grade is packing an automatic weapon?  That’s the only potentially valid argument I can see, for after-the-fact firing will never heal the wounded, nor resuscitate the dead.   But deterrence is an almost surreal reach,  supposing that a person with badly distorted emotions will respond in a rational and programmed way to a deterrent of any kind, much less to a threat of force.   Calm, seasoned diplomats and rational governments respond to deterrence. Guys with guns on playgrounds are another matter.

Any argument implying that more weaponry somehow yields fewer deaths argument is inherently non-proportional, when a simple and proportional one is available.   From the days of Occam’s razor, to our modern age of instantly-available information and weaponry, the same rule has applied to formulations,  decisions, and policies everywhere:  keep it simple. Keep it proportional.  Fewer inputs mean fewer outputs; fewer weapons imply fewer shootings, fewer shootings imply fewer deaths.

Complex answers should only prevail when the simple answer is demonstrably wrong, and that’s far from the case here.  A complex, non-proportional argument about the use of force, that most fundamental “more is better” concept, is a waste of time and an insult to sensible citizens everywhere.


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