Gun control, not surprisingly, is a very contentious issue among the readers of both this blog and the other blog I write for, Rationally Speaking. There were two interesting comments on my “The Gun as the Scapegoat” post (thanks for the thought provoking comments Bob and Alexander!). Anyway, I want to address a couple of the points they brought up.
First off, the phrase “gun control” is nebulous, so I should have been more clear. In this post I’ll make it crystal clear as to what I meant to take issue with in that last post, i.e., the claim that revoking the right to own a gun (of any type) is a solution to this cultural problem we Americans have been dealing with.
Here’s something that I think most of us will agree on: a psychopath with a gun can cause more damage than a psychopath with a knife. However, a psychopath with bleach has the potential to create more damage than a psychopath with guns. Right now bleach is legal, but I’m sure a psychopath could find a way to poison and kill a large number of people with it at a school cafeteria or something. Should we take preventive measures and ban bleach too? Like guns, I don’t regularly use bleach so I would only be opposed to banning it for reasons of principle.
What many people seem to forget is that simply making something illegal doesn’t necessarily mean it will remove it from society. Drugs are the perfect example. What reason do we have to believe that guns will be any different? For what it’s worth, I have yet to hear a good answer to this question.
One of my main points is that imposing gun restrictions will only fatten the tails. In other words, when you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns and they will be able to cause more harm with those guns. Think about it this way: one psychopath on a train can cause much more harm when he is the only one with a gun than can one psychopath on a train in which everyone has a gun.
Economic logic tells us that increasing the cost of committing a crime will decrease the amount of crime we see. That sounds simple enough, right? Therefore when a criminal’s potential victims are armed the cost of committing a crime increases greatly (criminals, like the rest of us, don’t want to get shot). However, many people aren’t persuaded by this logic (sadly) and claim that there is no evidence that guns actually reduce crime. They are, however, mistaken. The book More Guns, Less Crime is loaded with evidence showing that more guns actually cause less crime (by no means do I agree with everything in the book though.)
One of my main concerns with *all* of the empirical work on guns and gun control is this: Is it really possible to scientifically know if gun control laws (or the number of concealed weapon permits issued) reduce crime? One can cherry pick the data to get whatever result they want (as people from both sides have done). One problem for the anti-gun folks, though, is that it’s very difficult to capture every instance in which a gun prevented a crime — how do you measure such a thing? When talking about guns and gun control, I think economic logic is more important than are dubious (at best) statistical analyses. In other words, much of the evidence supporting the claim that more guns cause less crime is opaque to those doing the analysis.
There is also the issue of the relatively low amount of accidental deaths that occur from guns compared to bathtubs, etc that I brought up in my last post. Many pro-gun control advocates claim this is an irrelevant point, which it is, unless of course the person is also making the claim that it’s a reason to ban guns (I’m amazed at how often I see this mistake). If an individual takes the position that we should make illegal anything that accidentally kills people, as many pro-gun control advocates seem to be tacitly suggesting, then I’m going to suggest that they need to take that position to its logical conclusion (i.e, ban bathtubs too). Here’s my take: something shouldn’t be banned simply because some small percentage of people accidentally die from it — there are costs and benefits to everything.
In the end, I think it’s important to remember that laws don’t stop evil people from doing evil things. The only answer to this cultural problem I can come up with has a Nietzschean ring to it, i.e., we need to remove the evil people, or at least limit their ability to cause harm. Hayek was right — top-down solutions, like gun control, don’t work. Given the fundamental essence of human nature, I can’t help but believe that the best of all possible solutions to this problem will not also be a practical one. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong.