Why We Shouldn't Treat Survivors and Victims as Authorities on Policy Issues

The dispute over Harvard's decision to rescind the admission of Parkland shooting survivor/gun rights activist Kyle Kashuv should remind us of the reasons why we should not have given any special status to his views in the first place. The same goes for most others in similar situations.


Kyle Kashuv speaks at an NRA convention.

Over the last few days, controversy has raged over whether Harvard University was right to rescind the admission of conservative activist Kyle Kashuv after the discovery of racist comments he made in an online Google Doc in 2017-18. Like almost everyone else who has commented on the issue, I am divided in my own mind on the question of whether Harvard made the right decision. But, whatever we think of the rescission, it is worth noting that Kashuv became famous in the first place because he was a survivor of the horrific Parkland school shooting, and became an activist on gun rights issues as a result. If not for that history, there probably would be far less controversy over Harvard's decision. The origin of Kashuv's fame highlights a troubling aspect of modern political discourse.

In a post written last year,  I explained why it's a mistake to give special credence to the policy views of victims of horrible tragedies. Surviving a school shooting, or some other awful event, doesn't give you any special insight into the moral and policy questions at stake. Survivors deserve empathy and respect—but not deference to their policy views, except in rare instances where they have genuine expertise on the subject:

[R]ecent gun control protests draw moral authority not only from the age of the protesters, but from the fact that some of their leaders are survivors of school shootings, such as the one in Parkland, Florida that precipitated the current round of protest activity. Even school-age protesters who have not personally experienced gun violence may be seen as having special moral authority, because they are perceived as facing a heightened risk of suffering such horrible events in the future. In reality, school shootings are extraordinarily rare, and schools are among the safest places in American society. Schoolchildren are far more likely to be killed in accidents while walking or riding their bikes to school than in a shooting at school.

But even if students really were disproportionately likely to be victims of gun violence, that would not be a good reason to give special credence to their policy views. Personally experiencing a horrific event or being at disproportionate risk of suffering one, doesn't necessarily give you special insight into how to prevent such tragedies from occurring. A person who survives an awful plane crash does not thereby gain special insight into aviation safety. Similarly, a person who survives a mass shooting does not thereby get much in the way of useful knowledge of gun policy….

Often, the real reason for focusing attention on victims and survivors is not the value of their insights, but the way in which they tug at our emotional heart-strings. Opposition to policies promoted by survivors of a recent horrific event is easy to denounce as callous and unfeeling. Here, we would do well to remember that our immediate emotional reactions to tragedy are rarely a useful guide to policy. All too often, giving in to such feelings results in policies that create more harm and injustice than they prevent. Liberals are quick to point out this out when it comes to terrorist attacks. Conservatives routinely do so in the aftermath of mass shootings. Both are right, and both would do well to heed each other's warnings. As with emotional reactions to terrorist attacks, overreactions to the extremely rare phenomenon of school shootings can easily result in dangerous and unjust policies, as with the "zero tolerance" policies enacted in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shootings.

In the same post, I also explain why the views of young people on gun control and other policy issues are not entitled to special consideration and deference. Some young people do indeed have valuable contributions to make to policy debates, as is also true of some older people. But youth, as such, should not be viewed as a source of valuable insight.

The post references pro-gun control Parkland survivors, who were in the news at the time (though I also note conservative uses of victims on other issues, such as terrorism and immigration). But the point applies just as readily to Kashuv's advocacy for the opposing viewpoint.

One caveat to the general rule that survivors' views on policy issues do not deserve special credence is that survivor testimony is sometimes valuable as proof that a crime or other tragedy actually occurred:

Survivor testimony does have important value in some situations. For example, the testimony of Holocaust survivors and victims of other mass murders provides powerful evidence that those atrocities actually did occur (though there is often other evidence, as well, such as the extensive records kept by the perpetrators of the Holocaust). But the experience of being a Holocaust or Gulag survivor does not, in and of itself, give much insight into how to prevent future Hitlers and Stalins from committing similar atrocities. Similarly, surviving a school shooting does not create expertise on gun control.

Another possible caveat is that, if one side in a policy dispute cites survivor activists as proof that anyone who truly appreciates such a horrific event necessarily supports their position, the other can legitimately cite survivors with opposing views as evidence that that's not the case. Had conservative gun rights advocates cited Kashuv only for this limited purpose, they would have been on firmer ground.

But these rationales do not apply in the vast majority of cases where victims are held up as authorities on policy issues, including this one. Even if he had never made any awful racist comments, Kyle Kashuv should not have been held up as a font of wisdom on gun control issues. And the same goes for mass shooting survivors who oppose his position. They deserve our sympathy and understanding—but not our deference to their views.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I said Kashuv made his racist comments last year. In fact, some of them date back to late 2017, while others did indeed occur early last year. I apologize for the oversight, and have modified the post accordingly.

NEXT: The Court Swims in Political Seas

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I can’t believe this lack of self-awareness from Somin, who let’s us know every opportunity (it seems) what we can learn from survivors of Communism.

    1. I feel like that’s different, because what’s learned from the survivors of Communism is how bad it really is, and what happens with Communism. Not how to necessarily change it.

      For example, with school shooting, no one is arguing “well, maybe we should try school shootings.” Or “Well, they didn’t really do school shooting right in the past, if we do a school shooting this way, it’ll work better and everyone will be better off”. Or “That wasn’t a real school shooting, no one’s quite done real school shooting, and we can do it Right this time”

      1. “no one is arguing ‘well, maybe we should try school shootings.’ Or ‘Well, they didn’t really do school shooting right in the past, if we do a school shooting this way, it’ll work better and everyone will be better off'”

        Not quite true on that second one. One popular approach to talking about school shootings is how different they’d turn out if all the teachers were packing. (Fantasy answer: the good guys shoot the bad guy(s) dead right after the shooting starts, reducing the number of victims. More realistic answer: The good guy(s) with the guns get shot first when the shooting starts, then the bad guys pick off their real targets at their leisure.)

        1. You’re being stupid again.

          1. Sorry to intrude on your turf.

            1. It’s all you buddy. Always has been.

        2. That common “retort” is not backed by any evidence.

          1. “That common “retort” is not backed by any evidence.”

            You’d have to be AMAZINGLY stupid to believe this. It’s you, so you probably do.

            1. Gunman shot dead after opening fire on federal courthouse in downtown Dallas | Jun 18 2019


        3. “More realistic answer: The good guy(s) with the guns get shot first when the shooting starts, then the bad guys pick off their real targets at their leisure.”

          Yup. Stupid cops. They would have a much easier time disarming mass shooters if they were unarmed.

        4. “The good guy(s) with the guns get shot first when the shooting starts, then the bad guys pick off their real targets at their leisure.)”

          Really, that’s what happens? Then surely, you’ve got sources you can cite, because having a gun in a gun fight seems like a better option than being unarmed.

        5. Not quite what happened in the Highlands Ranch STEM school shooting. Three unarmed kids disarmed one shooter, but first of the kids was fatally shot. A security guard disarmed second shooter. Police showed up later.

          These were the kids who walked out of a vigil when the governor tried to turn it into an anti gun rally.

      2. No one is arguing we should try Communism either, just people calling increasingly ridiculous things socialist and therefore Communist.

        1. Yeah, like Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders praising socialist Venezuala. How’s that going now?

          1. Anyone who thinks Sanders praised Venezuela that needs to be more skeptical.

            Look up what he said. It wasn’t as much of a condemnation as I’d l like, but it wasn’t praise of their economic system.

            1. Sanders – “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.”

              It’s not been memory-holed yet, from his website:

              1. You think that’s an endorsement of Venezuela and not an attack on the US’s income inequality?

                1. It does both.

                  It says the *American dream* is more apt to be realized in *Venezuela* then in America. While the American dream means different things to different people, it generally means prosperity, opportunity, and success with hard work and a little luck. That’s high praise of Venezuela, that you’re more likely to get prosperity, opportunity, and success with hard work in Venezuela then in America. Also totally not true.

                  Then, there is the dig about income inequality in America, after a comma.

                  1. You are confusing comparative with absolute.

                    You’re very much misreading this.
                    If I say ‘California now has fewer bears than New York’ that’s a statement about California’s bear pop, not New York’s.

                    And it may have been true back when Venezuela was swimming in oil money, albeit for reasons other than policy.

                    1. It was during Chavez’ time and it was never true. And plenty of people said so at the time.

                2. Sanders has a history of…poor choices…with socialist leaders. Remember when he publically supported the Sandinistas?

                  Here’s a great quote “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America”

                  Or perhaps his love of Fidel Castro.

        2. Good thing nobody’s doing that with Nazism or fascism. Or “concentration camps”.

          1. Whattaboutism, TiP? You’re above that.

            1. You idiots who refuse to acknowledge knowledge how retarded the left is keep using that word. It doesnt make your side less retarded.

          2. AOC is often too facile for my taste, but I’m fully on board the ‘they’re concentration camps’ train.

            It’s been going on from well before this administration, but we’ve been concentrating an outgroup into camps. It’s a symptom of a problem with dehumanizing inconvenient peoples that we’ve always had, and a problem that’s in a waxing phase right now, if the rhetoric on the right has anything to say about it.

            1. Show me another example of people crossing over and searching for guards to put them into these camps like illegal immigrants are doing.

              You say really stupid shit a lot of the time.

            2. “but I’m fully on board the ‘they’re concentration camps’ train.”

              Does that mean that you think we should fuck around talking about what we call the places where we detain illegal immigrants?

              “It’s a symptom of a problem with dehumanizing inconvenient peoples…”
              No it’s not, that’s academic bullshit. It’s a symptom of a problem with incoherent policy. If it’s illegal for people to be in the country, Trump’s job is to detain them and deport them. If you’re in Congress and don’t like this, don’t whine about it, work with people on both sides of the aisle to fix the problem. If people like Biden were serious about working with people with different views, he’s show it by working to find a solution to the problem. Maybe wall funding in exchange for amnesty? But nobody will do that because they don’t give a shit about “concentration camps”, they give a shit about keeping the political issue.

              1. Solve the issue by working with the other side whose watchword is no compromise, or else you’re not really sincere. ‘Just find ‘a’ solution!’ You’re not as dumb as that, you know the state of debate there, don’t play the fool.

                Meanwhile you are outraged over the left for being outraged, which neatly condones the camps without having to say so.

                1. Compromise requires an expectation that both sides of the deal will be kept, and that expectation is dead. It was killed when Reagan’s amnesty wasn’t allowed to be followed up with border security, and the dead body has been cremated and dropped into the Sun by now, those sorts of compromises have been broken so many times.

                  Remember when the HAVA act was passed as a compromise, with motor voter AND voter rolls being cleaned up? And the latter ended up being treated as some sort of voting rights violation, rather than a mandated part of the bill?

                  Sorry, Lucy doesn’t get to lecture Charlie Brown about his lack of trust.

                  1. The critical mass of Brett like thinking on the right is why TiP’s blaming liberals for the existence of these camps is partisan blindness.

            3. Strangest concentration camps in existence, since the ones there can leave any time they want…to go back from whence they came.

              1. Where they will get killed. And have been getting killed. Don’t be naiive.

                1. Don’t expect us to be gullible. Almost all of these people are economic migrants, not genuine refugees.

                  1. You think people are going and staying in concentration camps because of economic reasons.
                    I’ll accept for the sake of argument. Economic force is still force. And they are still concentration camps.

                    1. “And they are still concentration camps.”

                      Defining Auschwitz down to include jails or other detention facilities seems …pretty weird, and not really OK.

                      Even the camps where Americans of Japanese ancestry were kept are usually called ‘internment camps’ because, as outrageous as that was, it wasn’t Auschwitz/Buchenwald/Sobibor. If you need a rubric to tell them apart, ‘do they have ovens’ ought to work.

                      p.s. The guys in orange jumpsuits picking up litter under the watchful eye of a deputy aren’t slaves, either.

                    2. Death camps != concentration camps, Absaroka. The first is a subset of the other.
                      And, notably, is what some of the second turned into in Germany as things continued to go bad.

                      Are you arguing that the only things you can call concentration camps are the Nazi Holocaust ones? Because that’d surprise a lot of historians.

      3. If I grant this point, would you grant that there are certain aspects of the gun control issue (for instance, how scary or how fast a killer was able to fire and how many people he was able to take out because he used an automatic weapon or semi-automatic weapon, and/or a large magazine) where a victim of one of these shootings would have some expertise?

        1. “would you grant that there are certain aspects of the gun control issue (for instance, how scary or how fast a killer was able to fire and how many people he was able to take out because he used an automatic weapon or semi-automatic weapon, and/or a large magazine) where a victim of one of these shootings would have some expertise?”

          “some expertise” is a relative term. How knowledgeable do you think a victim of a mass shooting is about how fast an AR-15 fires, vs a bolt-action rifle, vs semi-automatic pistol, vs a .38 special, for example, compared to your average gun nut? How do you think this compares to the knowledge differential between someone who has lived under communism vs someone who hasn’t?

  2. The difference is that Kashuv isn’t just a victim. He became interested in 2A because of his experience and is fashioning himself into becoming an expert. He isn’t the strongest voice for gun rights, but he’s useful for a counter-narrative. A lot of anti 2A people think we’re gun nuts who, if exposed to the “violence” our 2A creates (absurd notion, but give them the benefit of the doubt) would immediately hate guns and support repealing 2A. Kashuv isn’t the only Parkland student or parent that supports 2A and so his rise to fame was primarily reactionary to get sniveling leftists to shut the fuck up about their appeals to emotion. 2A supporters are waking up and starting to weaponize the tactics of communists against them. Anti 2A doesn’t own the emotional narrative anymore and Kashuv does a great job destroying their arguments.

    1. But if he weren’t a victim, he’d be just another kid with an opinion. No special platform or attention no matter how much expertise he’s developed.

      I agree that Kashuv is useful as a counter to the opposition’s appeals to emotion – but in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be making those logical fallacies in the first place.

      1. Of course, but I don’t know how we get back to square 1 without blowing up the narrative in the first place. People seem to respond to their own medicine better than they do from passionate and logical arguments.

    2. “but he’s useful for a counter-narrative . . .”

      well, maybe useful until he turned out to be just another conservative bigot (more precise: the relatively rare fledgling bigoted right-wing gun nut)

  3. There is a basic problem with Ilya’s view, and that he looks at this issue in a black and white manner.

    A victim of an event is much more likely to be motivated to research and understand the causes of that event. Therefore, they are more likely to have something important and interesting to say about its causes. Now, it is entirely possible and even likely that the person’s preferred policy prescriptions are incomplete and flawed. But in that way, they are like 100% of the population.

    I do not think we should defer to the views of victims. But, I also think that we should not defer to the views of “genuine experts” either. A person can be a genuine expert, but their policy views are likely to also be influenced by their ideology. So, if you blindly defer to them because of their expertise, you are also implicitly deferring to their ideology.

    The problem here is not one of deferring to victims, but one of deferring to anyone. It is in essence, a problem of political ignorance. If someone is ignorant about an issue, they are much more likely to wrongly defer to a genuine expert or a victim. In the case of the genuine expert, because of their ignorance the person is less likely to be able to distinguish aspects of the policy proposal that are derived from expertise versus what is derived from ideology. And in the case of a victim, the emotional appeal is very strong. If you don’t know what you want to eat for dinner, someone with a very passionate preference is likely to get their way and you will be fine with that. A person who is politically ignorant is like a person who doesn’t know what to eat for dinner.

    The real problem is not listening to victims. We should continue to do so. I say this as someone who thinks that the vast majority of the Parkland survivors are generally wrong on gun policy. We listen to others because we can learn something from them, even though their views are incomplete and have flaws. Victims do bring a different view to the table. And if you aren’t politically ignorant (you know what you want to eat for dinner), then the chances of victims distorting the public debate are much lower.

    In general, this counsels against making sudden decisions after a tragic event. It does not counsel to not listen to victims.

    1. I was about to reply that climate change should be turned over to engineers to solve. But on second thought, your words:
      “The problem here is not one of deferring to victims, but one of deferring to anyone.” were wiser.

      But the system does not work by wisdom. He who holds the bully pulpit dominates and influences regardless of his reason for being there.

    2. “A victim of an event is much more likely to be motivated to research and understand the causes of that event.”

      More than whom? The general public? We wouldn’t answer policy questions by asking strangers on the street in the first place.

      The main problem with listening to the victims is that they are more likely to be emotionally attached to the issue. Their interest results from an event in which they cannot separate themselves.

      But you’ve already answered the issue. If a victim is motivated to research the issue… what are they researching? Subject matter experts. And subject matter experts are not likely to be biased about it in the way that a victim is. You wouldn’t ask the survivor to tell you the answers, you’d just look for them wherever you think the survivor is going to gather his “research and understand[ing]”.

      1. ” We wouldn’t answer policy questions by asking strangers on the street in the first place.”

        Many politicians are highly responsive to polls. How is that different?

        1. It’s not. But we’re having a discussion about who people should listen to. Do you think education policy re: creationism should chase public polls? If a majority of general public takes up flat-earthism, should we decide aviation policy on that basis?

          This entire post is about authority. Do you think strangers on the street are authorities on any particular subjects, besides what foods they prefer, for example?

  4. Just FYI, the “awful racist comments” of Kyle Kashuv consist of some trash talking on a Google doc with his other 16-year old friends. They are much less worse than the average rap music song, tens of millions of which are in distribution.

    1. How many rap singers are accepted into Harvard? All of them, right?

      1. How many rap singers are accepted to Harvard, then have the acceptance rescinded because of their lyrics?

        Can you imagine the outrage?

        Should Obama be banned because he used racially sensitive words, and have his degree from Harvard revoked?

        1. “How many rap singers are accepted to Harvard, then have the acceptance rescinded because of their lyrics?
          Can you imagine the outrage?”

          I imagine the outrage would be different depending on which half of the question is causing the problem. But none of it will be MY outrage, because it’s still none of my business.

          1. Oh yeah, there was mad outrage when LL Cool J went to Harvard.

            Oh wait.

            1. “Oh yeah, there was mad outrage when LL Cool J went to Harvard.”

              Which one of his songs is the one with all the N-words in it, again?

              I only know “Mama said knock you out”, which has approximately zero.

              1. Shift them goalposts some more.

                1. They’re, uh, not my goalposts.

                  1. They became yours when you shifted them.

                2. You’re the one complaining that rappers get to use the word without being punished for using it.

                  Asked to name one of these rappers, you offered LL Cool J. So, when and where was he using the word I’m supposed to be outraged about?

                  That’s YOU being squishy, not me. Either point to the person who got in despite using offensive racial epithets, to admit you can’t, ‘K? Pointing out that you can’t isn’t “moving the goalposts”. It’s asking you to observe the goalposts you set up.

                  1. I mentioned Lyrics. You shifted them, saying you didn’t know any and demanded certain words.

                    But here, I’ll meet your shifted lyrics.

                    “Back Where I Belong.” Look it up.

                    1. Also “Queens Is”
                      To find lyrics with N word, google “LL Cool J lyrics niggar” .

                      BTW: I like LL Cool J. I think it’s great he went to Harvard.

      2. I should hope that Harvard is a little more careful than Michelle Obama:

        Michelle Obama’s Promotion of Misogyny and Date Rape

        Michelle and Barack Obama have openly promoted rap artists who glorify misogyny, sexual objectification of women, and even date rape… In April 2016, the Obamas invited numerous rap artists to the White House … including:

        * Rick Ross’s, “U.O.N.E.O.” glorifies date rape with the lyrics, “Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it.” .. Ross’ “Same Hoes” is meanwhile not about agricultural implements as shown by its lyrics, which consist primarily of the F word, a variant of the N word, and “hoes.”

        * Jay Z, who proclaims, “I’ve got 99 problems and a b***h ain’t one.”

        * Nicki Minaj: “Hey Mama,” “Make sure mama crawls on her knees keep him pleased rub him down be a lady and a freak” and also “Yes I do the cooking/ Yes I do the cleaning/ Yes I keep the nana real sweet for your eating/ Yes you be the (boss) yes I be respecting.”

        1. Changing the subject so fast, eh?

        2. “* Jay Z, who proclaims, ‘I’ve got 99 problems and a b***h ain’t one.’”

          It’s good to know that his dog is well-behaved.

        3. Really? This is the best you’ve got? 99 Problems is hardly some offensive song. In fact, I’ve heard of law professors using it to teach or test CrimPro. And I have no idea what your objection to Nicki Minaj’s lyrics are. Sure, wouldn’t play it for my 8-year-old, but not worth clutching pearls over.

          Also, I read the lyrics to “Back Where I Belong.” If you think those are bad, it’s best you stay off the internet and near your fainting couch.

          1. Sorry, those lyrics will get you banned from Harvard.

        4. So is it really rape if the woman doesn’t even know it ever happened and is none the wiser?

    2. Your right-wing appeasement of vicious bigotry (racism, anti-Semitism) is noted and disdained.

      Carry on, clinger. Until you are replaced by your betters.

      1. What Artie considers “betters” are the worst of the worst.

  5. Granted victims shouldn’t be treated as authorities, but I do hope you’re aware that reasonable principle isn’t why his invitation was rescinded by Harvard. It wasn’t even an element of why it was rescinded. Likely neither were those comments they unearthed.

    They would have rescinded an invitation to basically anybody on that side of the issue, it was all viewpoint driven. “Oh, he’s a gun rights advocate, we’ll shut him out. Now, what excuse to use…”

    1. The only problem with accepting your paranoid delusion is that he was a gun rights advocate when he was initially accepted. If they wanted to keep him out for being a gun rights advocate, they would have just not admitted him, and he’d be one of thousands of people who applied for, but were not accepted for, admission to Harvard. Instead of that guy who got his ticket pulled.

      I’m sure he can EASILY get an education every bit as effective and respected as what he would have gotten at Harvard at any of the schools where being on your side of the gun rights issue is considered a positive attribute.

      1. They kept him out because a mob showed up and demanded he be kept out. And the reasons they gave, which were pretextual (though certainly harmful to him), were sufficiently offensive to a sufficient number of people that others pre-disposed to disagreeing with him would be able to bludgeon Harvard with it. So Havard made a calculated decision to rescind his offer.

        Had a mob not showed up (say some administrator happened to come across this page without being alerted to it), I doubt they would have rescinded the offer. Harvard can’t police everyone’s prior comments and doesn’t want to set a double standard. But it’s hard to argue with a mob.

        The problem is, empowering the mob just encourages more of them to develop. Now the game is to find someone on your side who said something the pro-gun mob can use as good pretext to get someone you like. At that point, you’ll try distinguishing that situation from this one. So will the liberal administrators, who will need to calculate whether the risk of angering the left is greater than the risk of looking like Harvard has a double standard.

        And around and around we go.

      2. Paranoia is the perpetual cry of bullies who feel entitled to have their victims not learn from experience.

    2. He wasn’t shut out for being conservative. There are conservative student groups at Harvard.

      1. Bigots don’t like to be known as bigots. They also dislike accountability for bigots.

        1. You keep using that word.
          It doesn’t mean what you think it means, simpleton.

  6. I’m not quite with you on this, Professor Somin.

    Policy should be informed by the experiences of people who witness, or are the victims of horrific events. Their insights should not be controlling, but they’re at least potentially more valuable than what “average Joe” has to say on the subject.

    As an example, let me address the other issue you tangentially referred to. I don’t have to care whether Harvard made the correct choice in rescinding his acceptance, because that’s Harvard’s decision to make and not mine. But if I was going to try to resolve it, I would probably put more credence on the stated opinions of Harvard students, past and present, and Harvard faculty and management, past and present, over the opinions of someone who didn’t attend Harvard or interact with the student body.

    1. Why? I don’t see an argument here. You say “average Joe” should count less than a survivor, then offer as a supporting “example” your own conclusion that you care less about average Joe than Harvard students re: Harvard policy. Besides the fact that the analogy is broken, your argument needs work.

      1. I say “average joe” should count less than someone with direct experience, and then offer an example where I apply this rule.

        You couldn’t follow? Hint: you complained about the analogy, and there isn’t one– just a direct application of the stated rule.

        I think you’re confused.

        1. Offering an example of you applying a rule you created is not an argument. An argument would be: “Other people should adopt my rule because [reasons].”

          1. “Offering an example of you applying a rule you created is not an argument.”

            Oh, noes!

  7. “It is worth noting that Kashuv became famous in the first place because he was a survivor of the horrific Parkland school shooting, and became an activist on gun rights issues as a result. If not for that history, there probably would be far less controversy over Harvard’s decision.”

    On the contrary: if not for Kashuv being a gun rights activist, the racist material would not have been leaked and we wouldn’t know his name. How do I know? Because we don’t know the names of the other immature teenagers who were participating in the racist Google doc incident–only Kashuv.

    This is the same sort of argument that has been bandied about to criticize the DOJ’s decision not to charge President Trump eith obstruction of justice; “he would have been charged, had he not been president!” No… if he wasn’t the president there would never have been an investigation into whether he obstructed justice by trying to have the U.S. Attorney General fire a special prosecutor.

    1. It is unsurprising that public figures demand more attention from the public than people who are not public figures. Did you think this was a big revelation?

    2. “if he wasn’t the president there would never have been an investigation into whether he obstructed justice by trying to have the U.S. Attorney General fire a special prosecutor.”

      Well, duh. If he wasn’t the President, he wouldn’t have had the ability to obstruct justice.

      1. If he wasn’t President, there would be no reason to pretend that he obstructed justice.

  8. Professor Simon,

    Dare I point out that you yourself and your family are survivors of the Soviet system? And that this fact in many ways colors your thinking, distorts your instincts, and makes you tend to associate anything that seems even remotely socialist with evil and tyranny?

    The fact is there are a lot of countries whose people say they have better quality of life than the US on average, that are somewhat to the left of the United States.

    1. I have never used that fact as a source of authority on public policy issues, including even those related to socialism. My commentary on those issues relies on my actual professional expertise on law and public policy.

      1. Prof., here is a direct quote from your last post about Victims of Communism Day

        “Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur.”

        If that’s not advocating for listening to the victims in so many words, that what is?

        1. Technically, if you’re “commemorating” a victim, the only way you’re going to be listening to them is via a seance.

  9. Should have gone antigun like Hogg and then he could skate by even with abysmal scores. Now because he opened his fat mouth in favor of gun rights they started looking for an excuse to kick him.

    1. abysmal scores

      Making some assumptions about Hogg, and I guess the opposite about Kashuv, eh?

      Gotta keep that ideology clean from messy reality, I guess!

      1. From the NY Post: David Hogg, 17, has so far been rejected by four University of California campuses — UCLA, UCSD, UCSB and UC Irvine, he told TMZ.
        According to the UC site, a minimum 3.4 GPA is required for non-California residents to get in. The Florida teen has a 4.2 GPA and an SAT score of 1270.

        A score of 1270, puts him in the 88th percentile.

        Yet somehow that schmuck gets into Harvard? Just good luck I suppose.

        1. That’s some weak internet gumshoeing. And a dumb rout to go down to begin with.

          1. Weak? Naw, quick though, which still doesn’t make it wrong. It took about 45 seconds of searching and a 10 second cut/paste job.

            If you scored the 88th %ile on a test, that’s the bottom quartile, and thus objectively very bad (or a synonym here would be abysmal) on an objective test, the SAT. Hogg had an abysmal test score and got into Harvard on the strength of his activism.

            As for Kushuv, he got a 1550…that took about 15 seconds of searching to find a Forbes article on the subject.

            I know it’s your thing here, but don’t accuse someone of making assumptions, when data is so readily available and public. I bet dollars to donuts that AmosArch read one of those articles and knew about the bad scores, thus wasn’t making assumptions at all.

            1. Doesn’t make it wrong is a very low bar. Doesn’t make it correct either. SATs are not college admissions destiny.

              The mania to cobble together half-understood facts to shore up your narrative is not the sign of confidence in your ideology.

              Better than AmosArch’s just making it up, but not my much.

              1. C’mon, don’t start with that civility stuff. That’s a prisoners dilemma. Let me paraphrase Ann Althouse here: The real motivation for calls for civility is political advantage. Usually, the civility-demander is trying to get people they disagree with to tone it down, but not those they agree with.

                It would be nice if we could all be nice, but that ain’t gonna happen, and frankly, pointing out that a person who calls for civilian disarmament gets bad test scores, in not a particularly mean spirited, as it implies that their policy prescription is not smart because they are not smart. It’s not like Amos was saying that Hogg is a screeching skinny little beta male bitch or anything.

                1. My issue with AA isn’t that he was being uncivil, it’s that he was making things up because he felt they must be true.

                  But even though inaptly brought up, I think your civility argument is bunk. My saying don’t make baseless attacks on the comparative intellects of these two kids isn’t a bad-faith attempt to shut down an otherwise good argument.

                  You get to police your own civility. Those that don’t become clowns like WesternWhitesForever
                  Your assumption that I’m trying for political favor because I pointed out that your argument is all prejudice and no probity is wrong. And telling.

                  And now you’re trying to argue that SAT scores matter because they are a decent proxy for judgement?! Not your original argument, and not even a plausible argument at all.

                  Enjoy rationalizing your drifting into ad-hominem as regrettable but necessary.

                  1. The overwhelming weight of the evidence is that Amos wasn’t making things up when he said Hogg scored abysmally, because Hogg’s poor SAT score was widely reported (in outlets you don’t read apparently). The search term “Hogg SAT score” yields 614,000 results in Google.

                    Let’s hope Amos weighs in here, and while he could always be lying, I’m betting that he knew what you didn’t, namely that Hogg didn’t score well on his SAT, which you (wrongly) just assumed was him assuming the worst about the kid.

                    Calls for civility in politics, unless you’re trying to police both sides of a debate, are BS.

                    As for ARWP, or WesternHegemony, or whatever his handle is now, I’ve engaged him more than anyone else here that his calls for a shooting war are both silly and counterproductive. When’s the last time I saw you tell Rev to knock off the oral sex metaphors about cultural change? I don’t take his idiocy as representative of liberals, and you shouldn’t make the ecological fallacy either.

                    Ad hominem? The Hogg kid is objectively not smart on a fairly standard measure of smarts utilized by most institutions of higher leaning, his SAT score. What color is the sky on your planet Earth?

                    (Also, he is a screeching beta bitch boy).

                    1. The overwhelming weight of evidence isn’t what it used to be, I guess.

                      I don’t think Amos was lying, but only because of the Costanza Principle that if you believe it, it can’t be a lie.

                      You seem to be missing my point about ThreeNameSadbrain. You don’t think Rev loses people for his tone? He’s an example as well.

                      ‘Don’t listen to him – his SATs are in the 88th percentile!’ is dumb for lots of reasons, ad hominem being one of them.

    2. They didn’t need to look for an excuse. This young man was — perhaps is — an unreconstructed, vicious bigot. His thinking is stale and ugly, his parents have been failures. Decent people understandably prefer not to associate with him.

      Those who appease or embrace bigotry, however, will be his champions.

  10. It was a mistake on Harvard’s part. A private document, from a 16 year old, using a racially inflammatory word, not directed at anyone of the skin color, that is nonetheless heard commonly in popular music. A word that the President of the United States used in public. But one that the child cannot. And in fact, if the child’s skin was a different color, there would be no issue.

    If a child cannot repeat a word in private, without consequences that the President of the United States uses in public, what have we come to as a nation?

    1. You really playing from the ‘why can they say that word but we can’t’ playbook?

      1. When the President of the United States uses the word in public, what are children supposed to think? He’s an example. A leader.

        Or are children supposed to evaluate the words people speak based on the color of the skin of the person who says them? Is that the lesson you want to teach out children? “He’s black, so he can say this and do this. She’s white, so she can’t do what the black man does”

      2. Are you really advocating racial discrimination in what people are allowed to say?

        1. Words’ meanings change in different cultural contexts; race has cultural context. So…keep calling that you can’t say the N-Word discrimination against your race and we’ll see how far that gets you.

          1. Oh, so now there’s “context”……

            Here’s so context for you. A dumb 16 year old saying “N—-” repeatedly with a group of friends in private for the shock value. Just like saying Fcuk or Cnut. Not because they’re being racist, but because it’s a “forbidden word”.

            But apparently it’s “too forbidden” and needs to be punished with major consequences for private utterances.

            Here’s a hint. If a word is THAT bad, then no one should be using it. But if context matters, look at the context.

            Here’s a question to ask yourself. Can the new Duchess of Sussex use the N—– word repeatedly in public? Why or why not? Can she go up to Obama and say “My N____!”.

    2. ” using a racially inflammatory word, not directed at anyone of the skin color, that is nonetheless heard commonly in popular music.”

      “but they do it, too!” is not an excuse for wrongdoing.
      Your mother should have explained this to you no later than when you were 10.

      1. We learn from our elders and leaders.

        And if our leaders are throwing the word around in public discourse, and it’s not considered wrong, what are the children to think?

        1. “what are the children to think?”

          “but they do it, too!” is not an excuse for wrongdoing.
          Your mother should have explained this to you no later than when you were 10.

          1. I learned from Obama. That’s cool, isn’t it? Or is he not a good role model for some reason? Should I only pick white role models?

    3. I wonder whether Armchair Lawyer wonders why society has been curb-stomping his political preferences throughout his lifetime.

      Thank goodness for the culture war.

  11. Academia are enemies of the West. Once the new civil war, which will largely be a race war, starts, I’m looking forward to patriots bulldozing Harvard’s campus

  12. “If not for that history {of Second Amendment advocacy}, there probably would be far less controversy over Harvard’s decision.”

    If not for that history, the racist comment would never have come to light in the first place.

  13. Personally experiencing a horrific event or being at disproportionate risk of suffering one, doesn’t necessarily give you special insight into how to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

    True enough. But it does give you a moral advantage over gun nuts who evince complete disinterest concerning whether mass shootings happen or not. Comparatively speaking, if I am looking to find a proxy for insight, I will choose the guy with moral advantage ahead of the guy who doesn’t care, every time.

    1. That is silly. No one I have heard of denies that school shootings do and have occurred. The issue in my mind is the relative danger. We are in drowning in mop bucket territory here, with the annual death toll in a country of more that 300 million of single or low double digits for school shootings a year, on average. Kids in this country are probably more likely to be hit by lightening than to die in a mass school shooting. If a school aged kid is going to die from gun violence, it is far more likely from a drive by or gang related shooting out f school.

      1. QED, Bruce. I didn’t say, “doesn’t occur.” I said, “doesn’t care.”

        That seems to be you. Even about the kinds of gun violence you say are worse, you don’t seem to care. You only mention gang shootings to justify ignoring school shootings.

      2. “No one I have heard of denies that school shootings do and have occurred. ”

        Eh, in a nation of over 300 million people, half of whom have a below average IQ, there are plenty such people. Look up the “crisis actor” conspiracy theory.

        The rest of your point is valid. School shootings are so rare they’re about the last thing we’d be expending effort on reducing, if we really wanted to save lives.

    2. You only claim “doesn’t care” is because they disagree with your suggestions. There have been many suggestions from the pro-gun side including greater campus security, better tracking of police interactions with at-risk students & some improvements to mental health systems.

      1. Buddy, I would back every one of those, even though I have my doubts about all of them. Now what are you prepared to do with regard to changes in gun policy? Gun registration? Severe limits on magazine sizes for semi-automatics? Liability insurance for gun owners? None of those, right? So what?

        1. Well, I dunno. I sort of have a preference for doing things that might stop the killings, instead of some random grab bag of things. Like, say, liability insurance or registration. Is the theory that being shot with a registered gun is better than being shot with an unregistered one? Or is it hey, people will still be dead, but their heirs can get compensated by the insurance company, so it’s all good?

          1. Absaroka, my thought is that registration is a beginning toward doing things that might reduce the killings. It would enable systematized regional data collection, which is impossible to do today. With information thus gathered, better policy based on a more scientific approach would become possible. For instance, you could compare medical outcomes between regions, with the regional prevalence of semi-automatic guns as a potentially interesting variable. If there were regional variance, you might learn something useful about the lethality of semi-automatics compared to others.

            As for the insurance company, my suggestion is that getting them involved would also deliver useful information, maybe to guide policy, or maybe—after insurers found out which risks to avoid—in the form of higher rates for riskier guns. Don’t you suppose that handguns would turn out to be more costly to insure than shotguns, by multiples? That is an easy one. How about the comparison of semi-auto handguns, compared to revolvers. Less easy, I think.

            I get that gun advocates would hate all of this, because the last thing they want is informed answers when they say stuff like, “I sort of have a preference for doing things that might stop the killings, instead of some random grab bag of things.” That’s supposed to be a conversation stopper, right?

            1. So the big unknown for ‘mass shootings’ and ‘school shootings’ (your comments above used both) is that we don’t know the models of guns used, and how that varies by region. And if we only knew how mass killer’s weapons varied by region, we could really cut the death toll. And reading the newspapers that report those details in minute detail is right out, I suppose.

            2. In what way is this information supposed to be useful?

              Let’s say that we discover that school shootings are mostly perpetrated using some particular model of gun. (Maybe because it featured in the Matrix movies, say.) They’re none the less so rare that virtually all uses of that gun will be legal uses.

              If we found that a particular model year of camaro was favored by bank robbery getaway drivers, would we mandate background checks for classic car collectors who tried to buy one? Scour junkyards for old ones to crush?

              I really don’t see how this sort of information rationally leads to any policy, or irrationally to any constitutionally permissible policy, given that gun ownership IS a civil right.

              I mean, suppose we do find from this data that a particular model of gun is especially “lethal”. What of it? Guns are supposed to be lethal. It’s like studying knives to find out which ones cut best.

              1. I really don’t see how this sort of information rationally leads to any policy, or irrationally to any constitutionally permissible policy, given that gun ownership IS a civil right.

                I mean, suppose we do find from this data that a particular model of gun is especially “lethal”. What of it? Guns are supposed to be lethal.

                It is not an advantage for one type of gun if it’s presence in society imposes on innocent bystanders greater injuries than does another type. Whatever benefits there may be in social tolerance for guns, you should not choose to burden that tolerance beyond its breaking point. Trying to avoid that part of the policy discussion by suppressing the information necessary to conduct it can do nothing to increase the tolerance, nor to make the breaking point go away—more likely the opposite, in both cases.

                1. “by suppressing the information necessary”

                  What are you smoking? No one is suppressing any information. The types of guns used in mass killings are widely reported.

                  You can find detailed info on the weapons used in ‘normal’ murders as well – the FBI publishes reports, if you bother to look. Brett’s point is that is isn’t really useful to find out that a lot of murderers used a 9mm or 38 Special or whatever, because banning 9mm guns would just mean crooks would start using .40’s or whatever.

                  If you find out that drunk drivers are most commonly found in Toyota Camrys, it’s a little silly to try and fix the drunk driving problem by banning Camrys. Yet that seems to be the mindset gun control advocates bring to the problem of murders: ‘OMG, the killer used the most popular rifle in America! Let’s ban it’.

                  Many millions of people with that gun didn’t hurt anyone, but you don’t seem interested in why that particular person did what they did, and what we can do to change that. For decades now it’s all pistol grips, flash hiders, shoulder things that go up, small caliber, and other banned-features-du-jour, and not much looking at what makes whackos into whackos.

                  Homicidal maniacs are a problem regardless of the particular gun they have – just look at the high-casualty mass shootings done with ‘ordinary’ guns. Or for that matter if they have a bucket of gasoline instead of a gun.

                  1. Absaroka, go pedal the NRA’s pre-scripted obfuscations and subject changes somewhere else. I’m all stocked up. I get more forthright dialogue from Bellmore.

                    But before you go, I’m fine with looking into what makes gun whackos into gun whackos. I’m pretty sure that if anyone could look into it systematically, they would find a combination of gun marketing, and the militarization of guns in the civilian market among the causes.

                    The difference between you and me is I want high quality research to see if what I am pretty sure of is actually correct. You and the gun nut community not only don’t want that, but you also will do everything political you can do to keep it from happening. That kind of tactic leads straight toward a day when your opponents assemble enough political power to tell you, “No more handguns, and no more semi-automatic anything.”

                    You guys will be standing there too ignorant to respond, because you never wanted to know, and all you ever did want was to win the political power game. You didn’t for a moment suppose you could ever lose. I’m guessing you lose in about 2030, after a major political upheaval begins the process in 2024.

                    1. “I want high quality research”

                      Don’t we all! So go do it; no one is stopping you. Heck, you – and anyone Bloomberg wants to fund – have an absolute First Amendment right to do any research you want, and publicize it any way you want. In fact, he (and other gun control advocacy groups) do indeed fund and publish a lot of research. Haven’t you read any of it?

                      You are complaining about not being able to do something that is in fact being done currently and widely.

                    2. Empirical research on gun violence was not suppressed. What was suppressed was generation of op-ed level advocacy on apriori assumptions of the “researchers”. That is hardly high quality research. It gets you research on the level of Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocents” (comic books as cause of delinquency) and congressional hearings into comic books.

                      CDC Additional Requirement 13 (AR13 banning use of research funds to lobby Congress on gun control) backed up the previous CDC AR12 banning use of research funds to lobby Congress in violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act (an agency for the executive branch like CDC cannot appropriate funds from the legislative branch to lobby the legislative branch on any law). What was banned was lobbying, not high quality empirical research.

    3. You’re a fool. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we don’t think banning all guns (because that’s obviously what the left desires) is a worthwhile tradeoff to end the rare mass shootings, even accepting the assumption that such a ban would lead to that end.

    4. Our beautiful daughter died after aspirating a peanut. We joined a group for survivors, and we’re trying to pass some common-sense laws to prevent tragedies of this sort.

      Unfortunately, Big Legume is fighting our efforts in order to protect their profits. Their efforts are abetted by peanut fanatics who don’t care about the suffering of families like ours, and who insist that their so-called “right” to salty snacks is more important than the lives of our children.

  14. Now please do movie stars who testify before congress bc they played a part in a film and think that makes them an authority.

  15. The reason we should not listen to Kashuv and Hogg is because they are children who lack the experience to offer anyhing meaningful.

    There is nothing they can add to the discussion but emotion.

  16. I felt that way about 9/11 survivors or relatives of the dead long ago.

  17. Experiencing something doesn’t make you an expert nevertheless it does provide some perspective.

    Kyle now knows for sure that ultimately you are responsible for your own self defense

    And thus he is pro 2A

  18. Also let’s be clear this whole thing is ridiculous

    The ultra sensitivity to misuse of the N word is absurd.

    1. There are lots of ways to become an a-hole from what you say.

      The fact that the N word is a particularly efficient method does not make it absurd.

      1. So what?

        There’s lots of ways to be an a-hole using many words like hillbilly redneck and honky.

        But only the N word is so hideous as to require punishment but only if it’s used by a white person.

        Yea it’s pretty absurd

        1. So your current argument is that it’s absurd that some slurs are worse than others?

          1. None of these slurs are particularly bad. All of them are part of song lyrics. Your judgement that use of the N word at some point in the past by a person of the wrong color is somehow “worse” and warrants revoking a college admission is also absurd.

            My argument is that the punishment far exceeds the deed.

            1. A white guy calling a black guy the N word is saying a lot in that one word. I expect you know that. And none of it is there when the N word shows up in songs. I suspect you know that as well. And the message is about quite a bit more than any context where someone calls a white cracker or hillbilly.

              That’s where the social opprobrium comes in – like it or not, America’s got a legacy when it comes to race. And the N-word rides that legacy to power in a way that no other racial slur really can.

  19. Most of the time, victims are used by one side or the other to try to prevent further debate. There’s a good argument that victims can bring perspective to an issue. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that unless you’ve done something or experienced something, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about. At the same time, especially when the event is traumatic, the victim is sometimes too close to the event, which prevents them from seeing other viewpoints. Victims should have their say, and other people should listen to them, but other people should have their say as well.

  20. Kyle Kashuv has predicated his appeal on forgiveness, that he made his racial slurs were made when he was 16. Sadly, that was only 2 years ago. Other public figures are pilloried for their comments or actions 20 years ago and more. Kashuv’s apologies are more of an expedient “college admission conversion” than anything heartfelt. Tough luck. Welcome to the real world.

    1. “that he made his racial slurs were made when he was 16. Sadly, that was only 2 years ago. ”

      If he had robbed a blasted convenience store when he was 16, the record would be sealed! A stupid word 2 years ago is worse somehow?

  21. OTOH, an awful lot of so-called ‘experts’ who aren’t victims or survivors spout drivel, too. Frankly, I see no reason why victims and survivors should NOT have a voice in a political debate, so long as the standards are “What are your ideas, why will they work, and how do we identify when they are NOT working and stop?”

    Of course, if political debate was held on that level most of the Left and much of the Right would be limited to crying in their beers.

    1. More like all of the left and very little of the right.

  22. Honestly, if anything, people who have directly dealt with many issues are the exact people you DON’T want making decisions. Somebody who can be objective and detached will likely make a far more intelligent and logical choice on policy than somebody with a direct emotional attachment to the issue.

  23. It’s not surprising that the Volokh Conspiracy, consisting exclusively of comfortable, well-fed white males, who not in any sense were survivors or victims of anything, would argue survivors and victims have no special insight. After all, the important things are what you learn in the library, when you are paid to be there.

    1. Sorry dude, getting shot does not make you better at reading statistics, or logically thinking through likely repercussions of laws. Getting shot might make you more emotional about a given topic, because you feel like you have skin in the game… But being all fired up about something doesn’t make you think better most of the time.

  24. Why We Shouldn’t Treat Survivors and Victims as Authorities on Policy Issues

    Kyle Kashuv is not only not receiving any special weight to his views for his status as a survivor and victim of Parkland, but is being singled out for special attention for being a skeptic of gun control and activist for gun rights.

    It is hard for me to avoid noticing that the same does not go for others in similar situations, especially David Hogg and those with Bloomberg-approved views for gun control and against gun rights.

  25. “We Shouldn’t Treat Survivors and Victims as Authorities on Policy Issues” nor clueless law professors.

  26. “Personally experiencing a horrific event or being at disproportionate risk of suffering one, doesn’t necessarily give you special insight into how to prevent such tragedies from occurring” — but does give you special insight into _whether_ we should seriously try to prevent them, which seems to be where the debate really is.

    1. Other than a total ban there is no way to do so… And half+ of the country is NOT down for a total ban. Even with a total ban these things still happen, see Europe. If you can’t use legal guns you can use bombs, trucks, or illegal guns.

      The fact is we didn’t have this problem in the USA when my dad was growing up. Strangely he brought his gun TO SCHOOL for shooting activities when he was a kid. No school shootings. It almost makes one think that people only do this sort of thing at places where they know everybody is disarmed or something…

  27. […] From the Volokh Conspiracy comes an article about why we shouldn’t treat victims as policy experts… Both sides do it, and it’s just as wrong. Can victims become policy experts? Of course. However, using their stories to drive public policy is not a good idea. Laws named after victims are never good. […]

Please to post comments