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More On Guns

October 7, 2006

The recent high profile episodes of school violence have caused one Wisconsin lawmaker to suggest allowing teachers to carry guns in school. It has also rekindled the debate in the cheddarsphere over the concealed carry law passed by our legislature and subsequently vetoed by governor Doyle this last winter.

I seem to have no friends, conservative or liberal, on this issue. My position is this: I don’t really care if you have a gun or not, just as long as you are made to register it, get training for it and comply with a minimal set of safety guidelines; but I do not believe for one second that concealed carry is a substitute for what really reduces crime: jobs, education and the economy.

Conservatives like to make very emotional and simplistic arguments on this issue: women thwarting would-be rapists with their handguns, and the fact that the bad guys just won’t know who’s carrying and who isn’t! What delicious fun.

Liberals like to make feel-good statements about the issue, too. “The answer to violence is not more guns,” they’ll say. (What is the answer? They often don’t say.)

I don’t think there is any reliable evidence that concealed carry meaningfully reduces crime. At least I’ve never seen any. And, on the other hand, I don’t think there is any evidence that having concealed carry will reduce Wisconsin to wild west shoot-em-up chaos, either. After all, 46 other states have such laws and if they have all gone Mad Max on us, it has escaped my notice.

Concealed carry isn’t a ticket to Beyond Thunderdome, but neither is it a substitute for sound public policy on crime, poverty and related social ills. I wish we could spend our time talking about something more important. This issue is all heat and no light. It’s political rhetoric at it’s worst: it gets people riled up and divided, while benefiting no one.

One last jab at the pro-gun folks. Let us have a competition. I will take one large American city, you take another. You may have the gun laws of your wettest, wildest dreams. Fire away, pal. Meanwhile, I’ll invest in economic development and education. In a decade we’ll see what’s what. It is my rock-solid belief that not only will I have done far more to reduce crime in my city, I will also have reduced poverty and unemployment. You will have done none of these things.

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  1. Your proffered competition probably wouldn’t prove much, because reducing poverty and unemployment are subject to factors beyond the control of cities, chief among them the national economy. The greatest crime fighter of the last half of the 20th Century was none other than William Jefferson Clinton, because people are less likely to commit crimes when they have to be at work in the morning and a lot of people had jobs when Bubba was President.

    If you could have one city be totally gun-free and another with easy, universal access to firearms, I can predict without fear that the former would have a much lower rate of one kind of crime–gun murder, the one in which the U. S. leads all other countries by a huge margin.

    Guns are not, as the N.R.A. never tires of telling us, the only way to off somebody, but they make possible a huge number of killings which would be very difficult to accomplish with other weapons, primarily because of man’s continuing and annoying inability to outrun a bullet.

    I once witnessed a confrontation at 47th & Lexington in New York City in which one participant was wielding an ice pick and the other a tire iron. Each made a couple of swipes at the other without doing any harm and then Tire Iron turned and made what turned out to be a strategic retreat. As Ice Pick rejoined his by-now-sobbing female companion in his car, Tire Iron appeared as if out of nowhere and smashed the windshield of Ice Pick’s car.

    Ice Pick leapt from his vehicle and threw a quart bottle of Miller beer, which missed Tire Iron by several feet and missed me by a few inches, at which point I opted to rearrange myself behind a parked car, from which vantage point I saw a pair of blue bags arrest both participants at gunpoint. (The area was flooded with cops because it was during the 1980 Democratic Convention and the low-life challenger to President Carter was ensconced in the Waldorf Astoria, only a block away.)

    It was a brutally hot day and both men were probably fueled by Miller or perhaps something tastier. If either or both of them had had a handgun, there’s a very good chance one of them would be dead. Instead, both are perhaps grandfathers by now and both would probably agree that nothing that happened that day should have cost anyone his life. That’s the difference between guns and other weapons and it’s a story to remember the next time some knucklehead says, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

    A complete ban on the manufacture, sale and/or possession of handguns, rigorously enforced, would increase everyone’s chances of living long enough to give spinach a chance to kill them. After all, meat doesn’t kill people; spinach does.


  2. Just one question Scott. Why do I have to choose? Why is it that we have to choose either economic improvement as a way to reduce crime (something that classic liberals are ill equipped to do in my opinion), or concealed carry?

    I’m personally all for reducing crime by decreasing poverty, etc. But I also realize the cold hard truth that police can’t be everywhere at once, and that you have a right… a RIGHT… to defend your life if it is threatened.

    So why choose?


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  4. something that classic liberals are ill equipped to do in my opinion

    I can’t quite let this pass, even though it’s not our main issue. I’d just like to point out that for all the economic evil that Democrats purportedly bring, Bill Clinton presided over the longest economic boom in our country’s history.

    I’m personally all for reducing crime by decreasing poverty, etc.

    Something conservatives are ill-equipped to do in my opinion. 🙂

    you have a right… a RIGHT… to defend your life if it is threatened.

    You have all kinds of rights that are limited by your neighbors corresponding rights. Your neighbors think your desire to defend yourself by carrying a gun around is outweighed by their desire to not have more guns around. They could be wrong about this, but it’s never ever as simple as “I have a right to do X!” There are legitimate and competing interests here.


  5. I’ll invest my own money in a carry arm, holster, ammo and training. Are you planning to invest your own money in economic development and education? If by invest you mean take it by taxation and give it to government bureaucrats then there is no comparison.


  6. “You have all kinds of rights that are limited by your neighbors corresponding rights. Your neighbors think your desire to defend yourself by carrying a gun around is outweighed by their desire to not have more guns around.”

    So then you’re perfectly fine with outlawing homosexual marriage then right? After all, a gay couple’s right to marry can be outweighed by the desire of some people not to have married gay couples around. You know… legitimate and competing interests and all.

    Come one Scott. You’re going to have to make a better argument then simply stating a “desire” not to have more guns around. What about concealed carry is so awful that the state would have a legitimate interest in countermanding both the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions guarantee to a right to bear arms? Simple desires aren’t enough to counter rights. If they were, my life would be a lot more interesting than it is.


  7. I’ll invest my own money in a carry arm, holster, ammo and training.

    A fascinatingly short-sighted analysis. It moves me to make a further claim about my thought experiment: my way will be more cost-effective than yours. Even if the net cost of your gun laws is zero.

    So then you’re perfectly fine with outlawing homosexual marriage then right?

    Sure! All you have to do is empirically demonstrate that allowing gay marriage does more harm to everyone else than the harm caused to the gay persons themselves when we prevent them from marrying as they wish to do. So far, nobody has come up with any such demonstration that stands up to any scrutiny.

    You’re going to have to make a better argument then simply stating a “desire” not to have more guns around.

    You’re absolutely right. And I have no “better argument.” That is why I am not against concealed carry.


  8. scott, I agree that on this issue (and others) the rhetoric gets locked into sound-bites. I’ve only got a few seconds to make my point on the news so let me say something that will get air (print?) time.


  9. Scott and Nick,
    Your discussion of rights and desires is basically the distinction between positive rights and negative rights. To me, the only real rights are negative rights. We have no posative rights. Or at least we shouldn’t. And we shouldn’t talk about them as if they are rights.

    “You have all kinds of rights that are limited by your neighbors corresponding rights. Your neighbors think your desire to defend yourself by carrying a gun around is outweighed by their desire to not have more guns around. They could be wrong about this, but it’s never ever as simple as “I have a right to do X!” There are legitimate and competing interests here. ”

    The right to have a gun is a negative right (as is free speech, habeus corpus, freedom of worship, fair trial, right to cohabitate with or marry whoever you want etc.). It imposes no obligation on anyone else. It is therefore legit in my book. The “right” to not have guns around is a positive right (as is the “right” to healthcare, “right” to education, “right” to social security or a “living wage” or the desire to not have married gay couples around), and therefore, bullshit. Negative rights merely forbid government or other people from messing with you and your stuff. Positive rights require certain actions from other people.

    In my view, your negative rights should never be outweighed by anyone’s desires or percieved positive “rights.” The one exception is if you are stripped of some of your rights through a fair trial with due process and all that. I think that once a person is convicted of some crime in the appropriate way, we can infringe on all sorts of rights. So I’m actually okay with background checks for buying guns, so we can make sure the buyer hasn’t had that right stripped through a fair trial with due process.



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