I changed my mind on gun ownership after John Humphreys of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) reminded me where the onus of proof lies. It lies on those who want to restrict our ability to defend or deter aggressors. Of course, on utilitarian grounds the work of John Lott and others provides evidence to support the LDP case too. As a matter of principle though, whatever inconveniences freedom may cause are better than having no freedom at all.
It should be the same with any government action seeking to limit freedom. A part of the problem is that whenever we hear about a gun massacre tragedy such as Columbine, we don’t hear about the many incidents where weak or law-abiding people who needed a weapon to defend themselves have been unable to. These people have either been killed or injured by criminals and don’t have nearly as much lobbying power. The positives of gun ownership tend to not be given as much attention as the negatives. In America, far more little kids drown in unsupervised swimming pools than shoot themselves from a gun lying around the house (according to research by Steven Levitt). But it’s usually the gun incidents that get the media attention.
I would liken banning gun ownership to statutory product safety commissions that play it safe and ban products that, in the view of some bureaucrat, carries unacceptable’ risk, in the process denying many the chance to take drugs that while risky offer some benefits. We only hear the bad cases of where the risk eventuated, hardly ever the cases where because some bureaucrat decided a product is unsafe, someone’s life was made worse off. This sort of pre-emptive justice’ is not justice. Once the risk eventuates, let the person pursue the manufacturer through the courts, as is their right.
It should be left to individuals to make informed choices knowing the risks. Government can certainly be involved in educating people about responsible gun ownership. One of the interesting arguments against legalising gun ownership is the arms race’ one, that is, if pistols or AK-47s are legalised, criminals come at you with rocket launchers, if rocket launchers are legalised, they come at you with nukes. But that’s just silly. The answer of course, is not to ban guns, it’s to put in place policies that improve socio-economic status of the greatest number, reducing the number of criminals.
It’s to legalise certain illicit drugs and destroy the blackmarket which is inextricably linked to guns. It’s to stop taxing cigarettes and driving people towards illicit tobacco where the money goes towards terrorist groups. It’s to allow abortions so low income mothers have the choice to not raise their child in an environment of depravity that increases the potential for future criminal behaviour. Then we can talk arms race’.
One important qualifier however. Self-defence against someone threatening bodily injury is one thing. But defending yourself against someone stealing your property is quite another. Life is more important than property. So legal principles of proportionate and reasonable response would require you to remove yourself from a potentially dangerous situation and not shoot someone just because they demand your wallet. Responsible (not irresponsible) gun ownership should be the goal.