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April 04, 2003


Tim Noah in Slate asked a few weeks ago about why Iraq is a police state if guns are widespread. He now has some responses. I tend to put the burden of proof as far as gun ownership goes on the state, but I don't make grand claims about guns being the root of a host of social goods or ills. I lived in a community of 12,000 for 5 years where there was one murder per generation (literally, and the murderers were all of the same family, one generation each contributing a killer into the statistics). And, being eastern Imbler, every home had a gun. You have the same patterns of gun ownership in other types of communities-and all living hell is the result. Some of America's cities are grotesque parodies of urban settlements racked by gun warfare. Social context matters. And yet if ghetto urban levels of barbarism were prevelant throughout this country-I suspect the arguments would not change much, anti-gun people would assert that barbarism would be combated by cutting the source off, while pro-gun people would affirm that individuals had to defend themselves against barbarism and needed access to weapons. If amicable civility were the norm, both groups would make somewhat different points, though the utilitarian outcomes would be minimal, at least as far as first order outcomes go.

Posted by razib at 10:41 PM

You know, most of the guns in private hands in the black neighborhoods of Chicago are never used for a crime. There is a little bit of captious shooting in families just because a gun is available, but that's not the shooting that fills the newpapers. Those shootings are by a minority of criminals - gangbangers - just as in other parts of the country. The various ratios are a little different, but the root situations are comparable.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at April 5, 2003 06:40 AM

I've argued this at length, and it seems now that none of the big claims can be supported. There are places with widespread gun ownership and low crime, gun prohibition and low crime, ownership and high crime, and prohibition and high crime.

The Iraq case makes a fairly strong case that gun ownership does not prevent dictatorship. (Distributing automatic weapons widely to approved people is a form of gun control, of course, as in Cuba. On the other hand, regimes which arm large proportions of the population might be bad regimes and oppressive of many, but they obviously are not without public support.)

In places with weak governments, like much of the third world, gun ownership does act as a check on government, but this is not necessarily a good thing. You often end up with domination by warlords. If everyone else has a gun you need one, but even then, if your enemies have a hundred guns and you and your friends have thirty, you've got a problem. (I've seen "guns" used as a unit of measure in discussions of tribal size in Morrocco -- "Our tribe has thirty guns" (meaning ten armed men).

My own preference is to live in a peaceful society, with ot without guns, where I do not have to rely on armed self-defence. Many Amendment II militants actually seem to prefer the law of the jungle, frontier justice, and maybe civil war.

Posted by: zizka at April 6, 2003 10:58 AM

I agree, I tend to think guns are crime-neutral (or rather, crime rates are neutral when it comes to gun ownership. There is a great deal more going on than either the pro or anti-gun folks would like to admit. Doing so would muddy their otherwise pristine debating waters

heh. talk about muddying metaphors.. (cackle)

Posted by: Suman Palit at April 7, 2003 10:10 PM


Posted by: razib at April 11, 2003 09:44 AM


Posted by: razib at April 11, 2003 09:56 AM


Posted by: razib at April 11, 2003 10:15 AM