Horror Stories

On an Internet debate on gun policy, a gun control advocate had repeated two domestic abuse cases - one in Michigan, one in Arizona. These were reported as front page news in the national press, as illustrations on why gun control is needed. Facetiously, he suggested that we had to arm the little old ladies so they could protect themselves at church and citizens associations meetings. In the debate, I had already published John Lott's statistics on how in the United States the strong gun control states had more crime, more homicide and more violent crime than the shall issue conceal carry states. Thus, the following.

It is not unusual, nor am I in a minority, in adhering to the traditional Enlightenment approach. The government exists to protect rights, including life, liberty, property, the rights of conscience, and self defense. Abuse of these rights, usually in the form of infringement of the rights of others, may be punished through the removal of these rights. In the case of the right to self-defense, any felony conviction, a finding of mental incompetence, or a formal finding that an individual is a danger to others has always revoked the right. In addition, juveniles assume the right to bear arms only as they reach adulthood, and under adult supervision.

While I advocate radical change in a fourth turning, this being the only time that the values of the society as a whole are examined and transformed, the core traditional Christian and Enlightenment values are apt to be refined rather than destroyed. We have a worthy tradition to build on. The notion of shared responsibility for the defense of the community was once part of this tradition. The possible future loss of rights might be tragic. The already obvious loss of a sense of responsibility for the community is the greater problem.

I'm not into the horror stories. There are too many tales told by either side. Thus, I focus on the larger scale, the net result of attempting gun control. Gun control kills. Gun control kills if you look at the overall numbers. Gun control kills if you use Lott's corrections. One's reaction to the horror stories reflects one's values more than the actual problem of controlling crime. However, the horror stories can illustrate the problems of controlling crime.

There are three goals considered admirable to different degrees by different people. The professional police should protect the people. Criminals should be disarmed. The law-abiding citizens should have a right to self defense. Only the last is controversial.

If a horror story reaches the front page, generally all three principles have failed. The police did not protect the people. The criminal was not disarmed. The law-abiding citizens were not able to defend themselves.

Where values and worldviews come in is applying lessons learned. Which of the failures is to be blamed? Which principle needs to be strengthened? Which principle can potentially solve the problem?

The police can not be everywhere. They can come when called, collect evidence, and perhaps eventually catch and punish the perpetrator. Under many circumstances, they will arrive too late to preserve the lives at risk in the initial conflict. This is a common thread through many of the horror stories. When it is not true, the incident doesn't become a horror story, thus the media doesn't give the incident full coverage. Thus, Eric's proposed dependence on the professional police to provide protection is very dubious.

The police cannot prevent the bad guy from getting a gun. They could not prevent the distribution of drinks during the Prohibition. They cannot prevent the distribution of drugs today. A society with right of privacy, which requires probable cause before instituting search, has real difficulties enforcing laws banning certain types of property. There is apt to be a perpetual cry to 'close one more loophole,' to make it a little more difficult for criminals to acquire weapons. History suggests this approach will fail. There is always one more loophole, one more way for those willing to work outside the law to frustrate the law. It failed in the recent horror stories. I see no reason to anticipate this history of failure of contraband laws will change.

The citizens did not defend themselves. Arizona is a conceal carry shall issue state. The little old ladies of Arizona have a right to tuck handguns in their purses, to take them to church and citizens association meetings. None of them did so. This is as much a failure of the "More Guns Less Crime" approach, as Michigan was a failure of the gun control approach. The old militia system required all adult males to keep weapons at home, to be trained to handle emergencies, to be ready to respond to emergencies. Just before the militia system was abandoned, the homicide rate was 1.2 per 100,000. During the Hoover, Carter and Bush administrations, there were peaks in the neighborhood of 10 per 100,000. (Yes, a good deal of this is related to economic and other factors, not just gun laws, and we may never get back down to 1.2 again.)

I am more concerned with the loss of the sense of responsibility than the loss of rights. Crime is considered the problem of the police. The victim's lack of preparedness is irrelevant. It is the government's responsibility to protect the People regardless of the People's action or lack of action. We are spending a lot on crime control, might spend somewhat more, but there is a point of diminishing return. Counting on the government to do everything, not conceiving of any responsibility or duty to contribute as an individual, seems to me the dead end. The government has never solved a contraband problem. We have empowered the police nigh on as much as we can. The road not taken is a restoration of the militia. Congress has the power to arm, train and discipline the People to cooperate with the professionals in fighting crime. The 20th Century crime wave started when they ceased exercising this power. This is the true lesson of the horror stories.

The Right to Keep and Bear Arms