March 13, 2006

A Singularly Un-Nutty Gun Nut

Jeff The Baptist is pointing to this opinion piece by one Jim March, apparently an activist concerned with gun policy and electronic voting machines (no, the two don't seem to be connected). After reading the article, I take March to be a singularly un-nutty gun nut. He provides statistics, history, scientific case studies, and personal anecdotes to support his position that keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens (a) undermines democracy, and (b) increases crime. Particularly interesting is his claim that the development of weapons technology that could be purchased and used by the common people was an essential element in the rise of democracy.

In principle, I find his view compelling, although in practice it would make me uncomfortable to know that people around me were carrying guns - even people I trusted, and even in dangerous areas (I've been living on the edge of West Philadelphia for a few years now).

There is also one further theoretical difficulty. When Michael Badnarik was campaigning for president, he had a debate with David Cobb, the Green Party candidate, in which Cobb pointed out that some gun control was certainly reasonable, because people obviously didn't have a right to private nuclear weapons. To my great disappointment, Badnarik did not have a chance to respond. What are the levels of gradation between ownership of nuclear weapons (which I take NOT to be a right of the individual) and ownership of small knives (which I take to be a clear and obvious example of a right of an individual)? Perhaps an account could be developed based on Nozick's discussion of the prohibition of risky behavior, such that we can prohibit the individual ownership of nuclear weapons provided we compensate the individual for the loss of utility (what legitimate utility could he get from ownership of nuclear weapons?), but then why could we not prohibit him from owning guns? Perhaps the utility gain from owning guns is so great we could not possibly compensate him for it, but the utility gain from owning nuclear weapons is small. For instance, the government is capable of providing the kind of defense (namely, counter-strike, mutually assured destruction, etc.) that nuclear weapons provide, but it cannot provide the kind of defense provided by a personal hand gun in an acceptable way. Still, this seems like a "slippery slope" for a libertarian and it is difficult, I think, to draw a principled line anywhere along it. Perhaps someone else has a better idea?

Posted by Kenny at March 13, 2006 11:32 AM
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