Guns: Dangerous or Protective?
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizes the right to bear arms, making the ownership of guns a constitutional right that no U.S. State or federal government may deny.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
But are guns inherently dangerous to society? Should gun control tightly restrict who may own a gun? Should guns be confiscated and prohibited? Should the Second Amendment be repealed as obsolete and dangerous?
In the United Nations conference on small arms held earlier this year, it was noted that some 300,000 people die every year in armed conflicts that involve the use of guns. The conference proposed preventing rebels from getting guns by requiring that member states register all small arms and limit sales only to governments.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe, July 30, 2001, John R. Lott Jr., senior research scholar at Yale University Law School and author of the book More Guns, Less Crime, pointed out that not all insurgencies are bad. Oppressive regimes ban the private ownership of weapons to prevent rebellion and revolution, but do we really want to help them do this? How can we celebrate the American, French, Latin American, and other revolutions, and then want to deny other oppressed people the right of righteous rebellion?
Rwanda and Sierra Leone are examples of countries whose governments ban gun ownership, leaving the people defenseless against murder and mutilation by government forces or private armies. If the masses of people in Europe had been armed before World War II, it would have been much more difficult for the Nazi troops to enter and conquer country after country. If the Jews had been well armed, resistance would have saved millions of lives. Lott notes that the movie Schindler's List omitted the fact that Schindler stockpiled guns and hand grenades in case the Jews he was protecting had to defend themselves.
Lott also reports that where guns are banned, crime increases. The USA is often criticized for having widespread gun ownership, but Lott states that "the states with the highest gun ownership rates have by far the lowest violent crime rates. And similarly, over time, states with the largest increases in gun ownership have experienced the biggest drops in violent crime."
Great Britain is often pointed to as a country that severely restricts gun ownership. Crimes with guns have risen 40% since handguns were banned in Britain in 1997. The reason is that criminals respond to incentives just as anyone else. If we make it less risky, and therefore less costly, for robbers to commit a crime because the victims are disarmed, we will get more crime. People who don't own guns benefit from those who do, since the criminals don't know which potential victims have guns. Lott states that "Americans use guns defensively about two million times a year, five times more often than guns are used to commit crimes."
Banning guns is an example of treating symptoms and effects rather than eliminating the cause of problems. Internationally, the way to stop violent rebellions is to provide justice and liberty. If people are free and have equal access to natural opportunities, they will want to live peacefully and productively rather than fight. As Henry George pointed out, it is not enough that people have the right to vote and to speak freely; they must also share in the benefits provided by nature, and not have their labor stolen and restricted. A policy of getting public revenue from land rent and not taxing labor and enterprise would provide the economic justice that leads to social harmony rather than conflict.
Violent crime such as robbery and murder are made easier when criminals have guns, yes, but if their victims are disarmed, this makes the crime that much easier. The guns are already out there, and gun control or bans will not make the guns disappear. The first step in reducing gun-related violence is to start with the government. Much of the violence comes from the state. If we want social peace, we need to decriminalize all victimless acts. We also need to legalize work and enterprise, eliminating the force and violence of stealing the wage of the worker. Much more loot is taken by governments taxing wages than thieves ever take.
When governments become protectors rather than also plundering thieves, local communities can help prevent crime by organizing surveillance and mutual aid. Residents can carry whistles and call for help when threatened. With lighting, cameras, and attentive residents, crime will go down. Why are there bad areas in cities? Why are these places not better protected? If poverty is extirpated and drugs and prostitution legalized, there will be fewer, if any, such bad areas to watch. The police would concentrate on preventing violence, not squelching illegal goods in high demand.
The elimination of taxes and restrictions on enterprise and victimless acts will create the prosperity, liberty, and social justice that eliminate the cause of much violent crime. Neighborhood organization will complete the job. Then the demand to own guns will drop. That is real gun control, eliminating people's fear of violence and limiting the greed of getting goods with violence. We will have fewer guns when folks no longer see the need for them.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2001 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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