Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gun control

I propose that most people reason about gun control in the following manner:

- Guns enable the more efficient production of violence, much like textile machines enable the more efficient production of clothing
- Since violence is undesirable, we should want its production to be as inefficient as possible. This is in contrast to the production of desirable things, like clothing, which we want to be as efficient as possible.
- Obviously, it's impossible for guns, once invented, to be wished out of existence entirely since someone will always produce them, and the fewer there are, the greater the incentive to do so.
- Therefore, we should desire the fewest number of owners of guns possible since this will make the production of violence less efficient for all but the few persons/organizations which do own guns. And, we can then turn our attention more fully to the oversight of these few gun holders.

However, I think that this analysis is deeply flawed in that it misidentifies what it is that guns (and other weapons) actually produce. Guns do not produce violence, per se. Rather, they are used in the production of security. This mistake arises as a result of thinking about guns and other weapons primarily in their offensive capacity rather than in their defensive capacity.

Security is the nullification or dissuasion of violence and violent threats to persons or property. Many technological devices are used in the production of security - locks, cameras, vaults, fences, keypads, burglar alarms, motion detectors and, of course, weapons.

Deadly force is the "last line of defense" in any security scheme because almost any passive technological measure can be defeated if the attacker has free and clear access without fear of violent assault. A properly equipped crew (thermite torches or semtex) can dispatch even the beefiest bank vault in a matter of hours. It is the imminent violent assault which would be launched against such a crew which deters them from trying it. The violent assault nullifies the attack against the bank's property by potentially rendering the attackers lifeless and, therefore, inactive.

Hence, all physical security is ultimately founded on the potential for the use of deadly force to stop an attack. A world of violence-free security is purely fictional.

If we reason about weapons (and their application, violence) as means for the production of a positive good - security - then we realize that we should not desire there to be the fewest number of producers possible. In fact, like any other good, we should desire the production of security to be as competitive as possible. This will ensure the highest quality and lowest price by forcing producers to fiercely compete with one another for customers.

Good security minimizes attacks, thereby minimizing the need to resort of violence to stop attacks. Therefore, efficient (competitive) production of security minimizes violence. This means that widespread weapon ownership and competitive production of security services (including the use of deadly force) should be expected to tend to a minimum of violence.

In summary, I want to end on a conciliatory note:

- Gun control advocates and (thinking)* gun freedom advocates both agree that violence is undesirable
- Gun control advocates and gun freedom advocates disagree on the conditions under which violence is minimized
- Therefore, the debate should center on the reasons and evidence for the conditions under which the production of security is most efficient (i.e. the conditions under which the production of violence is minimized)

*Unfortunately, some gun freedom advocates seem to take glee in the use of violence... apparently, they've never been on the receiving end. It's no fun.

No comments: