Quickie

A quick question for my friends who vote Democratic and support much stricter gun control:

If, one year from today, Donald Trump is the head of the government, will you really want that government to have a monopoly on automatic weapons?

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39 Responses to “Quickie”


  1. 1 1 thomasblair

    Are you sure you meant to say “automatic”?

    Very, very few civilians have automatic weapons. They run $6-10k and up for the few that are transferable and have willing sellers. The usual question is about AR-15s and suchlike, which are semi-automatic rifles.

  2. 2 2 Thomas

    Even a relatively well armed and well organized band of citizens doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of the central government. The only practical reason for owning a weapon (automatic or not) is self-defense against criminals. That, alone, is reason enough to oppose the more draconian forms of gun control. When guns are outlawed only outlaws and government will have guns. And it’s stupid to count on government. The forces of “law and order” are mainly in the business of mopping up after the bad guys have done what they set out to do.

  3. 3 3 Doctor Memory

    The government already has a monopoly on automatic weapons, not to mention howitzers, claymores, land mines, tanks and gunship helicopters. Gun control debates in the US are about how to regulate semiauto rifles and handguns.

    If Donald Trump controls the army, the national guard and the FBI, our short-term problems are not going to be solvable with any scale of personal arsenal.

    Our longer term problems might require such, but it will also require a large number of the above-mentioned things that the state already firmly controls. Personally, my strong desire and hope is that we don’t get anywhere near that eventuality.

  4. 4 4 Seb

    I would bet that they’d overwhelmingly answer “yes”, and not find the question difficult at all.

    I take it you’re less confident of that and I’d like to understand why.

    The prospect of defending against the government with guns seems hopeless in any case. The prospect of trying to overthrow it with guns seems insanely reckless.
    I think most gun control favouring Democrats agree with me here.

    Are you thinking of something else? Or do you disagree with the above?

  5. 5 5 Advo

    The case for the second amendment as a protection of democracy is not that you could use private guns to overthrow the government.
    That’s not going to work if the government has the army on its side. If it doesn’t, if the army is on the side of the protestors, you won’t need private guns.
    The argument for the second amendment as a protection of freedom is that armed citizens can be a much bigger pain in the a$$ to deal with than unarmed citizens (just consider the Wildlife refuge standoff).
    Imagine Trump wants to shut down the NYTimes for example. Courageous liberals would no doubt gather up their arsenals and march to its defense. Clearing a building of unarmed protestors is easy, done without a second thought. Storming a building full of armed protestors is a very different kettle of fish.
    A PR nightmare.
    Guns won’t help against a ruthless dictator who has the army firmly on its side (e.g. Hitler) – but guns can help protect private institutions such as the press and the headquarters and personnel of other political parties against government takeover under autocrats such as Turkey’s Erdogan.

  6. 6 6 Harold

    Unthinkable as it may be that we wake up in a years time with Trump as president of the USA, I find myself waking up this morning with the (until recently) unthinkable occurrence of UK leaving the EU. Rule nothing out.

    That said, I would very much prefer the USA Govt. to have the monopoly, even if it was led by Trump. I would almost certainly think the same even if I lived in the USA (which i have done in the past).

    In the UK we have very few guns, and most people do not seem to worry about this. We have very much lower homicide and firearm accident rates. I think the UK path is a far better one than the USA path. However, it is not now possible to turn the USA onto the UK path. There are already too many guns, and the culture is such that for some reason people want guns. If the USA were to outlaw them now the “only criminals have guns” lobby may have a point.

    In my view thios illustrates the social network effects of the market that are not included in the conventional economic. The “market” is not simply the sum of individuals’ behaviours. Any model that uses the individual as the only unit will miss out on social effects. In the UK, by controlling access to guns we have never created the desire for guns. The preferences of the individuals is not simply a “sum of the parts” that can be added up. the preferences are influenced by the preferences of others. trhe work of Salganik demonstrates this.

  7. 7 7 dictum

    @thomas

    “Even a relatively well armed and well organized band of citizens doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of the central government”.

    even a relatively well-informed and well-read observer should note that the US has not been effective at subduing guerilla insurgencies in the past 50 years, and these were not particularly sophisticated insurgents, either. for cursory reading on this subject, try robert taber’s “war of the flea”.

  8. 8 8 Advo

    @dictum
    If you look at the Iraqi insurgency, they’d have done much better without guns, for two reasons:

    1. In a standup firefight, the casualty rate among Iraqi insurgents usually approached 100%.
    Having a firefight with US marines is just not a very good idea. The insurgency was most effective in its use of IEDs, and possibly mortars. Firearms were relatively ineffective, downright suicidal even.

    2. Non-violent resistance against the US occupation would have been more effective than violent resistance. Imagine hundreds of thousands of Iraqis linking arms and blocking US bases, singing Kumbaya. The occupation would have ended much sooner.

  9. 9 9 nobody.really

    A quick question for my friends who vote Democratic and support much stricter gun control:

    If, one year from today, Donald Trump is the head of the government, will you really want that government to have a monopoly on automatic weapons?

    1. Yes.

    I’ll echo the comments of Doctor Memory and others: The government already asserts monopoly control over a variety of military weapons (e.g., howitzers). Thus, the issue posed by Landsburg’s hypothetical is not whether the government can do that; it’s whether automatic weapons belong in the category of weapons over which government should/may assert monopoly control, or whether it doesn’t.

    (This was one of the many question left unresolved by those arguing that the 2d Amendment grants rights to private citizens rather than to militias, and by the Supreme Court its Heller decision. So now we’re left to litigate over this case by case. In its current session, the Court declined to hear any of the lower-court decisions upholding gun control law, affectively affirmed those decisions without comment.)

    As a total layman, I find it easier to imagine the harm arising from private citizens wielding automatic weapons than from private citizens having to resort to semiautomatic weapons, so I’d welcome having government preclude private citizens wielding automatic
    weapons.

    And Trump’s election would not alter my opinion on that matter.

    2. Why would Landsburg suggest that Trump’s election would influence people’s answer to this question?

    A. Maybe Landsburg wanted to crank out a quick post to keep things lively on his blog, thought it would be fun to flummox Democrats, and hasn’t really thought the implications through.

    B. Maybe Landsburg is field-testing questions for a psych experiment designed to see if priming an audience with vaguely ominous ideas (“President Trump!”) will cause them to adopt defensive views, even when those defenses have little to do with the vague threat.

    C. Maybe Landsburg is suggesting that US citizens should design public policy to facilitate military-style assaults on the government.

    This last option strikes me as consistent with a libertarian mindset. And it puts into relief some public policy choices—which I’ll discuss next.

  10. 10 10 Advo

    @nobody.really:

    I would suggest that liberals would not want guns to facilitate military-style assaults on the government, but to defend the NYTimes from government assault under a Trump autocracy.

  11. 11 11 nobody.really

    Should US citizens design public policy to facilitate military-style assaults on the government?

    1. How much do we value the power to attack government (or hate the idea of being vulnerable to government oppression) relative to countervailing considerations? Libertarians REALLY, REALLY value the option of resisting government with force (or REALLY, REALLY hate the threat of government oppression)—and perhaps REALLY, REALLY cannot fathom the trade-offs their preferences entail.

    Yup, government oppression is bad. But it’s far from the only bad thing in the world. I suspect people who are members of ethnic or religious minorities, or female, or physically or mentally impaired, or poor, or suffering from illness/natural disaster/criminals/invading armies … know this already. The battered wife, the child who can’t find clean water, the guy suffering from Ebola—government’s overweening power may not be high on their priority list. Higher on that list may be the concern that government LACKS sufficient power to come to their aid.

    It is only those who lack more pressing concerns who face no more immediate threats who have the luxury of worrying about the threat posed by government’s monopoly control of automatic weapons.

    2. But we might be able to look at actual evidence to illustrate the trade-offs. Throughout the world we have examples of oppressive governments—governments that likely sought to monopolize control of automatic weapons—being overthrown, and the public gaining greater access to weapons. In how many of these circumstances would we say that the public benefited from this turn of events? Is Iraq better off? Egypt? Syria? Somalia?

    Bottom line: If the goal is to minimize the threat of government oppression—and arguably to thereby render government more stable in the long run—then maybe arming the population with military-style weapons is a good strategy. And if your goal is to make money selling weapons, then this might be a good policy, too.

    But if you have pretty much ANY OTHER goals, then having a public wielding military-style arms will likely impede those goals. Not so much because of the actions of bad people, but because of the actions of crazy people—which, in a moment of passion, might be any of us.

    And if ceding control over automatic weapons to government means that government becomes somewhat more likely to fall into tyranny than it would be otherwise, perhaps that’s a price worth paying. Because, throughout history, chaos has claimed more lives than tyranny ever dreamed of.

    The US, with its highly armed population, enjoys a reputation as being the least desirable population for anyone occupying army to try to pacify. And the US gains this reputation merely by enduring the highest murder rate, year in and year out, in the developed world. Thus, a US citizen can proudly face any foreign army with equanimity–assuming he can overcome his justified concern about the 300 million+ neighbors at his back. How many people have died for our “freedoms”? The number is beyond count.

    So here’s the final irony: If you TRULY want to the autonomy of the individual relative to society, you should favor gun control. If instead you’re willing to sacrifice the lives of private citizens to promote the group, then you should favor letting everyone know that every US citizen should be presumed to be an armed combatant.

  12. 12 12 Harold

    nobody.really. Because, throughout history, chaos has claimed more lives than tyranny ever dreamed of.

    I agree almost entirely with your analaysis, but question the numbers. Much chaos has been created by tyranny. Is there evidence for this claim?

  13. 13 13 Harold

    Oh no, italic not switched off again – hope this will not infect all the future comments.

    Off topic entirely, but the Brexit vote is much on my mind. It seemed to offer a dilemma for free-marketeers. The EU offers an essentially free market in terms of tarifs and barriers to trade, but at the cost of complying to the regulations.

    I am horrified to find the UK out. Almost all economists predicted economic harm to the UK. The response by the leave campaign was Gove’s assertion that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. I find it depressing that the side with that argument won. Apology for the rant.

  14. 14 14 nobody.really

    [C]haos has claimed more lives than tyranny ever dreamed of.

    I agree almost entirely with your analysis, but question the numbers. Much chaos has been created by tyranny. Is there evidence for this claim?

    Yeah, this is a better piece of rhetoric than reason because everything hangs on how one would define the terms.

    Mostly I mean to draw a distinction between harms arises from unintentional sources and harms arising intentionally. In the developed world, governments provide a powerful tool for guarding against, or compensating for, harms arising from unintentional sources. But the human psyche seems especially vigilant about guarding against intentional harms, rather than harms in general. Perhaps this is the cause of, or the result of, a propensity to attribute agency to all kinds of phenomena.

    But as a quick hit, Wikipedia reports that infectious disease accounted for 26% of all deaths in 2002, and 32% in 1993—picking those years simply because those are the years reported by two World Health Organization studies. So just out of the gates, it would appear that chaos is off to a strong start.

    Now, should we really say that all infectious diseases reflect unintentional harms? Clearly there have been times when people have spread disease intentionally for, say, military purposes. But I suspect that reflects a small proportion of the total.

    To this we might add non-infectious disease and illness. Cancer alone accounts for–oh crap—did I catch that italics thing also? Damn it…!

    Ok everybody, before you respond to this post, first WASH YOUR HANDS. And wash’em again after you hit the Submit key, ok? I’d hate to make Wikipedia revise their statistics….

  15. 15 15 Ken

    “will you really want that government to have a monopoly on automatic weapons”

    They all ready do. Automatic weapons are illegal to own without special permission and paying a lot of money in fees.

  16. 16 16 Ken

    “Even a relatively well armed and well organized band of citizens doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of the central government.”

    So thought King George. And FYI, 47 million households owning over 300 million guns can easily over come a force of less than 3 million, cops plus military, many of whom won’t take up arms against those 47 million households.

  17. 17 17 Ken

    Advo,

    “The case for the second amendment as a protection of democracy is not that you could use private guns to overthrow the government.
    That’s not going to work if the government has the army on its side.”

    There are only 500,000 people in the army, many of whom are not in any sort of combat roles. There are 47 million households, meaning well over 100 million people, who own over 300 million guns. I think it’s obvious the army would be destroyed, though, there would be heavy losses in that 100 million plus group of gun owners.

  18. 18 18 Dave

    As a general rule, the government will not be coming to take your guns away. The government will be taking away your Social Security, Medicare, pension, and other savings.

    No amount of guns will be sufficient to retrieve your lost money.

  19. 19 19 Harold

    Yes, if we say chaos is all deaths not directly attributable to tyranny I cannot dispute the numbers. Oh damn, forgot to wash my hands!

  20. 20 20 Alan Wexelblat

    In addition to the answers you’ve gotten from my fellow LibDems, I will say “Yes because the law ought not to vary by the political party in control.” This was my primary argument against Senate Democrats changing filibuster rules. We may reasonably debate how far out the government monopoly on weapons of war should extend; what we should NOT do is have that debate depend on who is sitting in the oval office this term.

  21. 21 21 iceman

    Harold – I’ve heard violent crime is high in the UK though, worse per capita than the US, e.g. break-ins in broad daylight as intruders know they will be unopposed? Some statistics on this in the Telegraph I believe from a few years ago

  22. 22 22 Harold

    iceman. Please provide evidence. One analysis I found says of comparative crime rates in UK nd USA
    Robbery 1.1 times as likely to be victim in UK
    Burglary 1.5 times as likely in USA
    Murder: 4.03 times as likely in USA
    Knife crime: 1.4 times s likely in UK
    Fatal shooting: 35.2 times s likely in USA
    aggravated Assault: 6.9 times as likely in USA
    https://dispellingthemythukvsusguns.wordpress.com/

    Other analyses are available.

  23. 23 23 Ken B

    Oh my Harold. Did you get to the point where he said he multiplied the US rate by his home grown fudge factor of … 4.81. Yes, four point eight one.

  24. 24 24 Harold

    Ken B. He did not do s you say.

    The 4.81 is the ratio of USA crime reported in surveys to the crimes reported to the police. There are always crimes not reported to the police, so we expect a positive value. The corresponding value in the UK is 2.6. These figures are discussed in the article but does not seem to be included in the values I quoted above, which seem to have been taken directly from the sources quoted.

    The fatal shootings only include crimes I think. If you add in accidents and suicides the ratio will be even higher.

  25. 25 25 Advo

    <<<<There are only 500,000 people in the army, many of whom are not in any sort of combat roles. There are 47 million households, meaning well over 100 million people, who own over 300 million guns. I think it’s obvious the army would be destroyed, though, there would be heavy losses in that 100 million plus group of gun owners.<<<<

    If you pitted the US army of 500,000 against 100 million+ group of civilian gun owners, assuming that the US army was led by someone with the ethics of Putin, the US army would win, and it wouldn't even be a contest.
    Armed rabble does really, really poorly against a professional military, and guerilla tactics work only if your opponent isn't prepared to massacre a large part of the population.

  26. 26 26 David E. Wallin

    The only thing about a possible Trump presidency that lets me sleep is the secure belief they will never give him the real launch codes.

  27. 27 27 Harold

    Civil wars tend to have roughly even splits between sides. There is no reason to think that it would be the army vs the rest. There are bound to many civilians who support the army.

  28. 28 28 iceman

    Apparently stories in the London papers circa July 2009 were on a report conducted by the EU that was quite unfavorable for the UK, including compared to other EU countries. Lack of standardization in the classification of crimes is a complicating factor. If you were to include suicides (2/3 of the reported number of gun deaths in the US) clearly you would want to then include suicides by all means.

    IMO possibly the biggest problem of all with gun crime statistics is the difficulty of trying to adjust for the impact of differing approaches to drug laws and enforcement policies on gang violence etc.; unfortunately I’ve never seen this attempted or even discussed? I’m not sure of the state of this aspect of the issue in the UK.

  29. 29 29 Harold

    Icemn: IMO possibly the biggest problem of all with gun crime statistics is the difficulty of trying to adjust for the impact of differing approaches to drug laws and enforcement policies on gang violence etc

    Looking at the vast difference in gun crime between say USA and almost anywhere else, and then to say that the biggest problem is the approach to drug laws is missing the wood for the the trees, or possibly the elephant in the room. It is merely distraction. It is simply the wrong question to be asking.

    You re right that gun suicide is not on its own the important statistic. The USA has about twice the suicide rate as the UK.

  30. 30 30 Harold

    Within the USA suicides correlate with gun ownership. It seems access to effective means of suicide men that impulsive suicide attempts are more likely to be successful. In the absence of such means many people do not go on to make another attempt.

    Tabarrok says: In my latest paper, Firearms and Suicides in US States, (written with the excellent Justin Briggs) we examine the easier question, what is the relationship between firearms and suicide? Using a variety of techniques and data we estimate that a 1 percentage point increase in the household gun ownership rate leads to a .5 to .9% increase in suicides.

  31. 31 31 iceman

    “Missing the wood for the trees”

    Evidence please. The econometrics are surely tricky but worth giving it a go I would think. I have to believe gang violence is a material factor in cities like Chicago. What I don’t know is how the laws and degree of enforcement differ in other countries like the UK.

    Likewise the suicide issue seems more complex. I can believe access to firearms plays a role. But South Korea has perhaps the worst problem, and strictest gun laws, in the world. Preferred methods (among *unplanned* suicides) include pesticide poisoning and falling, things to which access is presumably even easier than firearms.

  32. 32 32 Harold

    The key factor is the all else being equal clause that is implied. It is quite likely that Korea would have an even higher suicide rate if more people had access to guns. Most people have access to a fall, but we have a deep instinctive avoidance of falling. Not so pulling a trigger. This is possibly why in the States, more suicides use a gun than a cliff or tall building.

    So looking at gun ownership is really missing the point about suicides. We should be asking why Korea has such a high rate.

    I think looking at drug law is a bit like looking at gun ownership nd suicide. It misses the point about the cause.

  33. 33 33 nobody.really

    I’ve often wondered about the correlation between gun ownership and homicide of the gun owner: How do we distinguish cause from effect?

    After all, if we really thought that having a gun caused you to be at greater risk of being killed, we’d send our soldiers into battle unarmed. As that example illustrates, it’s unclear that having a gun makes you more likely to be killed; perhaps being in an environment where you’re more likely to be killed prompts you to get a gun.

    What about the correlation between gun ownership and suicides? Perhaps the stress of living in an environment where you’re more likely to be killed also makes you more likely to kill yourself.

    Now, in candor, I expect that the causation runs primarily in the other direction—but I don’t know.

  34. 34 34 Advo

    The connection between suicide and gun ownership is relatively simple:

    Only a small percentage of non-firearm suicide attempts succeed, while almost all suicide attempts by firearm are successful.

    The vast majority of suicide attempts are relatively spontaneous, the result of various factors and triggers coming together at precisely that point in time. If that moment passes, those factors may never come together again.

    If a gun is available in that situation, at this moment, the risk of successful suicide is high. If it isn’t, it’s low.

  35. 35 35 Harold

    Advo. From a free market perspective a successful suicide is a benefit, so more guns are good!

  36. 36 36 iceman

    Advo — I could only wish “those factors may never come together again” were an accurate characterization of depression and mental illness

  37. 37 37 iceman

    Nobody – like the classic example of greater police presence correlating with more crime…conversely, where guns are banned it seems quite rational to expect fewer gun crimes but more crime overall, since the risk of encountering resistance is lower, while the consequence if caught of using a firearm (unnecessarily) is greater. At that point we’re kind of into the “seatbelt debate”.

  38. 38 38 iceman

    I know no one is reading this anymore but Harold #35 — huh?

  39. 39 39 Advo

    @Iceman:
    I said “may”. Most people who fail at a suicide attempt never end up killing themselves.
    But many sadly do.

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