Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Richard Epstein on gun control

Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institute has a thoughtful essay on gun control.


Today, upwards of 200 million firearms of all descriptions are available for general use in the United States. Amnesty programs have made only a tiny dent in that number. The imposition of a tough registration program will lead to a substantial reduction in the number of guns in circulation. But even tough gun laws may have had little impact on people like James Holmes. Holmes showed no danger signs, except perhaps that he was a bit of a loner, not an uncommon trait. He had cleared all background checks when he purchased his weapon. If Colorado banned guns, would he have acquired the same weapons out of state or in the illegal market? No one knows.
The situation is even more complex when the focus shifts to the impact of gun laws more generally. Here, the key insight is that reducing the total number of guns is not the only likely effect of the law. The prohibitions in question will also shift the ratio of guns held in lawful and unlawful hands to favor the latter. To take the extreme case, suppose that a gun control law can eliminate 99.9 percent of the guns now in circulation and that all of the remaining 200,000 guns are in the hands of hardened criminals. We can confidently predict that crime will go up unless and until there is a vast expansion of the public police force.
Less dramatic shifts in that critical ratio should produce less dramatic results, but ones that cut in the same direction. Potential criminals, knowing that they are less likely to meet armed resistance will, on average, be more likely to commit various kinds offenses. The empirical data suggests that this grim logic might even apply to mass killers intent on suicide, who do not like the prospect of being gunned down by strangers before they can kill their desired targets.
Indeed, at least one serious academic paper by the economists John Lott and William Landes finds a positive connection between tough gun laws and an increase in mass killings. That data could easily be disputed. But what cannot be denied is the intelligible economic theory that undergirds its conclusions. The basic point here is that in any gun-free environment (such as that of Virginia Tech), the assailant knows that he will not meet with any immediate armed resistance, and this puts innocent people at risk.
So what then to do? It may well be that the best strategy is a combination of both carrots and sticks. A ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons makes sense on the ground if it is true that there are few lawful uses of guns and many dangerous ones. One does not have to lurch to Mayor Bloomberg’s intemperate Wild-West scenario to think that it may well be wise to increase the use of concealed firearms by off-duty police officers, military people, and private security guards who normally carry these weapons as part of their jobs. The task of preventing violence requires a difficult balancing act that is inconsistent with both a fierce defense and a fierce denunciation of all gun control measures.

I agree with Epstein that it is not at all clear that stricter gun control would reduce massacres and gun crime in general,  and in fact it might make things worse. Strict control would primarily have the effect of disarming the citizenry, leaving criminals with more gun-free zones in which to use their illegally-obtained guns with impunity.

Crime control is always a balance. We can reduce crime via totalitarian measures, of course, but then the criminals are the government, and crime is not really reduced at all. Freedom always means the freedom to do evil, and there may not be anything decisive we can do about it.

That said, I do believe that the violence in our media is bad. It is wrong to blame the producers of the Batman movie for the massacre, but it is not entirely a surprise that one deranged man might act out violently in response to a wildly popular and seductively violent film. The only way I see to help reduce the likelihood of such real violence is to bring more civility and simple decency to our public square. Why not make more movies that portray a humane way of life?

Not likely to happen anytime soon. We are addicted to vicarious violence, and we may just have to accept that once in a while some madman will make real the violent fantasies we crave and pay so much to enjoy.


  1. one serious academic paper by the economists John Lott

    Hee, hee! Keep it up, Egnor, you're killing me!

    Now that Phyllis Diller is gone, maybe you should consider going on tour!

    John Lott, writing a serious academic paper! What will you come up with next?

    1. The evidence that gun control is ineffective in preventing violent crime is overwhelming.

      The large drop in violent crime rate in the US over the past 2 decades was due to better policing and punishment of criminals-- something conservatives fought for and liberals still oppose.

      Rudi Giuliani and Bill Bratton prevented more murders than all of your idiot gun control legislation for the past 50 years.

      We need liberal control, not gun control. And a law to allow people to conceal and carry conservatives.

    2. Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion, came down in 1973. Suddenly, a great many women would have given birth to unwanted babies were instead aborting them. 17 years later, in 1990, there were was a sudden drop in 17-year-old troublemakers and the crime rate began going down all across the country. Four years after that, in 1994, Giuliani took office and there were fewer problematic 17-21 year olds running around. And the trend continued, you get the picture.
      So anyone who was mayor or police chief during this era began taking credit for the precipitous drop in the crime rate.
      The crime rate was going down EVERYWHERE in the country, and for this same reason.
      The crime rate drop was greater in San Francisco than in NYC.

  2. Conservatives are like little boys when it comes to guns, fantasizing that they will shoot up all the bad guys, save the country from our illegitimate (black) president, and fight off the waves of UN black helicopters.

    So what if 30,000 of their fellow countrymen die from gunshots every year, it’s a small price to pay to maintain the fantasy of power for the dickless and deranged.


    1. KW,
      "Conservatives are like little boys when it comes to guns"
      This is interesting. Did you fantasize about guns as a child, KW? In what ways?
      When I was a boy, I was learning to do many things - including shoot. I did not need to fantasize about 'guns', as I was learning to use them. They were no more fantastic than my bicycle was.

      "[...]fantasizing that they will shoot up all the bad guys,"
      Bad guys? Care to elaborate?

      "[...]save the country from our illegitimate (black) president,"
      I am under the impression your president was legally elected.
      Not sure what his skin colour has to do with it? Do you mean to posit the Black conservatives also dislike him for being black?
      Or...Maybe you're just being the typical partisan hack you are, and are playing 'the race card' for the sheer hell of it and yet again.

      "...and fight off the waves of UN black helicopters."
      UN Helicopters are white and sometimes blue.
      The black helicopters people are seeing all the time in the USA are agency birds or maybe contractors. Goodness knows you folks have an abundance of both.

      "So what if 30,000 of their fellow countrymen die from gunshots every year,"
      These are very interesting statistics.
      From the same study you can also learn that just under half of those are suicides, and so presumably would have happened by another means (think Japan or Sweden). That still leaves us with 16k people killed with 'guns' (firearms).
      A close look at the same study and we find that HALF of these 16K shootings are 'black on black' and almost entirely urban.
      This is in a population that makes up approx 15% of the USA and a tiny geographical region of less than 2%. So is this an 'ethnic', 'social', or 'cultural' issue?
      Sure looks like it.
      Now we are left with 8K. Still a very big number of people killed by guns. Still compared to those killed in/by automobiles (42,636 in 2005) it comes into perspective in a nation of 300+ million.

      So, considering the FULL spectrum of the data you use, KW - what do you suggest?
      What form of effective control will leave the hunters with their firearms, the militias with their rifles, and the inner city gangs and maniacal killers totally disarmed? Where is the synthesis or solution?
      I humbly suggest it is not in 'control' of weapons, but of the markets that drive violence.

      "[...]it’s a small price to pay to maintain the fantasy of power for the dickless and deranged."
      So says the nerd-eunuch who begs for 'protections' and 'controls'.

    2. There is absolutely no reason to belly that just as many suicides and murders (black on black or otherwise) wouldn't have happened if guns were far more tightly controlled or even totally prohibited. This is evidenced by looking at the facts like that of Japan has twice the suicide rate of the US with practically no private gun ownership. Additionally, Russia has incredibly tight gun control and only 9 guns over 100 people (the us is at about 100 guns per 100 people) and yet has twice the murder rate of the US...
      So the ONLY thing accomplished by further restricting or prohibiting free people (including blacks) from guns is that they are less abel to defend themselves. Given the high rate of black on black murder that actually makes your position racist.

  3. [save the country from our illegitimate (black) president]

    Race-baiting again, KW.

    Is there any topic you can discuss without accusing those with whom you disagree of being racists?

    1. If the shoe fits.....


    2. It doesn't fit. That's the point. This is not about race. It's about gun control.