Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On the Mythology of Gun Rights

The recent Supreme Court decision on the personal right to bear arms is currently spurring discussion across the internet. I've got little to say on the actual decision, plenty of others are busy giving every possible interpretation. [NY Times has an article with a series of contributions and I always like to recommend The Economist]

What frustrates me on this issue is that both sides seem to be mostly in the thrall of mythologies. On one side, is some sort of weird view of an inextricable link between freedom and guns, which there is basically no historical support for. On the other, the idea that any legislation is good legislation.

While I haven't read over the entire range of the literature, from some overview reading on the subject I've done in the past (if it was more recently I'd give titles and links) makes me think there is actually a great deal of consensus about the role of guns in society. First, there are no ties between gun rights and freedom. Look at Europe, despite the mythology most remained armed for a good deal of their history, the 30 Years War being an example, and it didn't exactly make them a bastion of democracy. Of course, there was a brief window where armies were almost entirely composed of conscripts where a militia could stand effectively against them but this was very short lived. Also, gun ownership is never a barrier to those trying to protect their rights. Just look around today. About the easiest part of fighting for your freedom is getting a gun. No need for any special constitutional protections for this, where there is demand there will be supply.

Another myth is that European societies are so restrictive on ownership. They're all more restrictive on gun sales but Switzerland is very open on ownership and possession is no where near as onerous in most countries as it is made out to be.

As to the effects of guns on crime, we know a few things. Local legislation does basically nothing, only federal laws have a large effect. Concealed or open carry makes very little difference in gun crime. Restricting long guns (the Australian term which I happen to like, rifles, shotguns, etc.) has no effect, and may actually make crime worse, barring domestic situations and suicides which correlate with numbers of guns of any type, distinct from other types of gun crime. Gun laws need to focus on the guns being used in crimes, in particular hand guns, no need to look at assault weapons specifically.

However, we also know that laws that restrict the sale and enforces registration and tracking do have large effects. You can look at murder rates across countries to see how much the US is an outlier. This of course also requires that the government has significant capacity, countries like Mexico with weak and corrupt enforcement do not see the benefit from additional laws of most types, gun laws included.

Not that I think rationality will prevail here, political myth is persistant. I can still complain about how frustrating all this nonsense is however.

No comments:

Post a Comment