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.
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.
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.
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.
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.