Increasing Marginal Utility

A blog so good it violates the law of diminishing marginal utility.

Take a Position: Gun Control

Bloggers tend to discuss the same issues over and over again. For instance, we often discuss monetary policy. We also discuss monetary policy sometimes. I thought it might be interesting to take a position on a less sexy (if not uncontroversial) topic.  If other people do this as well, I will continue this once a week. If not, I may continue it anyway.

Gun Control

Although I may not do this for every issue, I will split this into consequentialist and deontological considerations – while acknowledging that there may be other considerations I am simply not looking at here.

CONSEQUENTIALIST:

The empirical record is entirely ambiguous with respect to the effect of guns on crime. John Lott’s study has been objected to by smart people, and he hasn’t given impressive responses, but the econometrics get sufficiently advanced that there isn’t a clear answer. Other studies do not seem to be very rigorous from an economist’s point of view.

There is some reason to believe it is typically individually irrational to own guns because in most circumstances an accident is more to occur likely than an opportunity to protect yourself (even if you are more likely to die in a bathtub accident than in a gun accident). The belief that you can just take safety classes and be safe sounds like optimism bias to me. Still, if guns reduce crime, gun ownership may be a positive externality.

It may be prudent to allow citizens to keep guns for what amounts to public choice reasons. It offers a check against extreme oppression. The Weimar Republic, not Hitler, may have been responsible for the confiscation of guns, but it would have made it easier to resist Hitler if the citizens insisted on holding onto their firearms.

Naive comparisons to Europe (e.g. Michael Moore) and pro-gun sloganeering (“only criminals will own the guns!”) are uninteresting to me.

DEONTOLOGICAL:

Before we begin asserting things like right to health care and right to education, I think it’s fair to first assert the right to rebellion. It’s hard to take right to rebellion seriously without allowing citizens to hold firearms.

If we must go down the Constitutional route, the most coherent theory is original meaning (NOT original intention), and I know of no sound argument which holds the original meaning of the Second Amendment was the right to participate in the militia, regardless of how it reads today.

I do not take the Rothbardian position on property rights (including for guns) seriously for reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog post.

CONCLUSION:

Given the presumption of liberty, traditionally legal guns should remain legal for adults. I would leave the decision of making more weapons widely legal (e.g. automatics, explosives) open for local governments and hope to get better empirical data on whether they increase crime. In the U.S., I would not allow localities to make traditionally legal guns illegal for reasons related to constitutional political economy. If very long-run, believable studies could be performed showing that firearms do not restrain government, I could be persuaded otherwise.

8 responses to “Take a Position: Gun Control

  1. Gene Callahan June 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    “I think it’s fair to first assert the right to rebellion”
    I don’t think you can make such a “right” coherent. If I have a “right” to rebellion., than the government has *no* right to resist my rebellion. This would seem to imply a rotation of presidents every few minutes, as whoever has shown up most recently with a gun takes over, and then immediately loses his right to resist the next would-be president.

    • Daniel Kuehn June 28, 2012 at 6:28 am

      Another way to look at the incoherence of it is, as I put it on the blog, that if your rebellion is successful it’s really a moot point whether you had a right to rebel, and if it is unsuccessful, then it turns out you’re not a rebel after all – you’re also a traitor – and so once again whether you had the right to rebel is a moot point (because that’s not what you actually did).

      Perhaps this needs to be conditional. You have a right to rebel if X.

      But I think this starts to illustrate how man-made rights are.

  2. Lee Kelly June 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Guns don’t kill people, bullets do.

  3. P.S. Huff June 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    “If I have a “right” to rebellion., than the government has *no* right to resist my rebellion.”

    I think Ryan Murphy means a moral right to rebellion (not a legal right), which is activated by the continual abuse of power.

    • Gene Callahan June 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      OK, Huff, but does that help our understanding of things? Have I advanced our comprehension if, instead of saying “I’ve been working hard: I think it’s OK if I watch a little TV tonight” I instead declare “I have a right to watch TV tonight”?

      Similarly, I accept that there may be times when one’s duty to obey the law has lapsed, and it is no longer wrong to rebel. Do we get anywhere by instead saying “One has a right to rebel”?

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