Posted by Jay Livingston
The previous post brought an unusually high number of comments for this blog, most of them not highly complimentary. But for the most part, the commenters and I agreed on the basic idea that was at issue. I phrased it offensively: using a gun to stop someone else from doing something you don’t like. There’s another way to phrase it. As I said in the original post, “Gun advocates put this in terms of self-defense.” Oh boy, did they. Check out the comments.
I also said that distrust of the government was a common theme. The comments also bear this out. At a minimum, commenters did not trust the government to protect anyone from criminals. They seem to distrust government in other ways as well.
So we agreed on what guns do. The smidgen of disagreement arises over whether guns galore is a good idea. The commenters seem to be united in their certainty. I am less so. I just have these gnawing thoughts that allowing anyone and everyone to buy this kind of weaponry might not be an unmitigated good. I don’t know the Texas law and how it works in practice, but my guess is that Hasan could have made his purchases even if he had not been in the military. If any disturbed, angry, jihad-minded nut could have walked into Guns Galore and come out armed to the teeth, that gives me cause for concern.
The problem is not that gun owners are “psychotic killers on power trips,” as one commenter interpreted my post. The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming gun owners. Their massacres, not to mention the individual shootings, are a very high price to pay.
Another commenter made a comparison with the UK. Here’s the most recent info I could find (here)
The murder rate in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years, with 648 homicides recorded in 2008/09 – 136 fewer than the year before. Home Office statisticians said the drop was "not a blip".That works out to a rate of 1.4 - 1.5 murders per 100,000 population. The rate in the US last year was more than triple that – 5.4 per 100,000.
Annual crime figures published yesterday show the number of murders and manslaughters and infanticides fell to a level not seen since 1989.
There was a significant further fall in gun crime with the number of incidents involving a firearm down by 17% to 8,184. The number of fatal shootings fell from 53 to 38.
The CDC report mentioned by another commenter does say that there is not enough evidence to show that gun laws are effective in reducing violence. That may mean merely that the gun laws we have don’t really reduce the flow of guns, especially to those who are most likely to misuse them. Or, as the CDC says in a Rumsfeld-like utterance, absence of evidence for violence reduction is not evidence of the absence of violence reduction. The effect may be there, but the difficulties of doing this kind of research make it very hard to find.
Finally, one commenter wrote of guns as a means of “punishment to defectors.”
Guns are the means to--if necessary--to punish defectors (criminals) within a population of cooperators (law-abiding citizens) as a means of maintaining the trust required for other-wise costly altruism.That’s an interesting point, and I have a vague memory of seeing some lab-experiment studies on it. I don’t know of any real-world data. (It may well exist, but I’m just not up on this literature.) Usually, it’s the government that punishes defectors. Where the government cannot fulfill that function, altruism and trust break down. But I don’t see how individual gun ownership – self-defense – replaces governmental control. The more likely solution to the government’s failure would be vigilantism – private, but collective, punishment of defectors.
It's also a probably factor in out of control crime-rates in cities. Not so much the loss of altruism at the individual level, but the inability for local populations to maintain an ability to promote social norms regarding trust and altruism.
Thanks for all the comments, guys. I hadn’t known about LiveJournal – what it is or how it works. I’ll have to check it out.