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One: In many rural parts of the country police protection is limited and the need to be defend yourself against possible criminal attacks is a motive for owning guns. Think of the book In Cold Blood.

Second. I doubt a high tax would deter deranged individuals from getting a gun. I imagine if you are ready to commit suicide following the killing, you would be willing to spend your entire savings on a weapon. Poor people would have fewer guns but unless you want to argue that poverty and gun violence are linked, where does this lead.

Third. The Lane Bryant case, assuming the motivation was robbery, might have been prevented with stricter gun laws. Or it might have been prevented if the penalties for gun crimes were increased.

Fourth. The NIU case is a killer with no desire to survive and no concern about the victims. If not guns, he could have reverted to arson, poison, bombs, etc. Do not make the mistake that a determined killer could adjust his methods to achieve his goals.

Tim Ozenne

I don't know how one can square a high tax on legal gun sales with the Second Amendment. If the proposal is to repeal the Second Amendment to enable the government to infringe on gun ownership, say so.

john hartigan

Guns ought to be regulated (not 'controlled') like autos. The cross hatched system of incentives now in place for cars allow us to use automobiles, while minimizing the harm inevitably accompanying their broad use, and would do as well for guns.

Central registration (identification of weapons and ammunition); liability insurance; licensing users and weapons; recordation of transfers; adjusting liability rules to decrease impulsive and criminal behavior. These steps could be followed with the mechanisms now in place in every jurisdiction.

Benefits: we all drive, and appreciate that the inconveniences we are put to are necessary to limit the losses inevitably associated with widescale use. Asking those of use to do as much for a comparably dangerous activity, would be easy for all to understand and accept. (Given the number of users for cars and autos, the risks are comparable. Annual deaths per capita.)

Gun injuries and deaths, as with autos, arise from a limitless range of activities- accidents, like Vice President Cheney's; suicides; domestic violence; criminal behavior. The problem needs to be addressed widely, not piecemeal, as the author suggests.

The low hanging fruit here is in limiting the harm attributable to impulsive and criminal behavior. Liability insurance would provide a number of incentives- cost, underwriting analysis, underwriting recommendations (e.g. building codes, rules of the road - lower rates for less dangerous guns, lower rates for secured weapons etc), greater personal responsibility. Central registries and transfer rules for guns and ammo would temper the informal market that now exists, and provide better law enforcement. The usual auto liablity rules also work with guns: family purpose doctrine, negligent entrustment, 'rules of the road'.

The issue becomes: must we continue to adjust our lives in all other areas, rather than face gun regulation directly? Do we need to have metal detectors, 'pre criminal' intervention into people's lives, flack jackets in schools? After living 60 years in the same neighborhood, I have recently developed the ability to differentiate between the sounds of fireworks on a summer night, and those of automatic weapons. Imagine a world where we refused to regulate autos, but permitted their widescale use. We'd be where we are today with guns - using them, in a much coarser, more dangerous environment.
(For purposes of this post, I assume that the utility of the activity justifies the expense. Politically, regulation (not 'control') also has the advantage of frustrating both the utopians who desire to eliminate guns, and the dystopians who desire to eliminate all regulation of guns.)

Thank you for engaging in this discussion.

Gene Hoffman

A couple of concerns about the various arguments.

First, raising the cost of firearms is a regressive tax on the safety to the poor who are in more need of firearms than the rich. Rich neighborhoods have better police protection and lower incidence of crime. Further, the marginal impact of crime tends to be lower on those with more disposable income.

Gun control's effect on mass shooting by the mentally disturbed isn't something that's easily economically optimized. You'll note that mass shooters of this sort aren't looking for the most efficient way to commit third party suicide. If they were, they would proceed to the nearest police station or shooting range. However, it seems they are seeking an intangible benefit of creating fear and infamy and as such the cost of the firearm is comparatively low compared to the value of their own life. The likely substitution are swords or automobiles depending on the immediacy of fear they are looking to inflict.

Finally, the Tyranny argument is neither so hard to understand or so distant historically as it is often thought to be. First, the simple practical question of whether it is easier to take control of the local Guard Armory with or without common firearms answers itself. More importantly however is the story of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. In 1964, black veterans organized themselves in Jonesboro Alabama into a defensive miltia of sorts to protect their children and the voting rights workers attempting to integrate their town. Tyranny does not have to be Federal to be tyranny nonetheless.


john hartigan

In Omaha, where we recently had a similar mass shooting, gun permit applications in the weeks after the event nearly tripled. ( http://www.omaha/comprint_friendly.php?u_mod=story )

So, there is an 'arms race' effect at work here. The spectacular events themselves spawn a broader circulation of guns, and so on.

Jeff K

Ironically, some commentators think that the appropriate policy response to the recent campus killings is to have more guns on campus. Apparently, many schools do not allow students who have licenses to carry concealed handguns to bring them onto campus. These commentators say that concealed carriers would be both a deterrent and a last line of defense against people like the NIU and the Virginia Tech killers. So, I am somewhat doubtful that another campus massacre would increase public support for gun control: the NRA and gun rights advocates find a way to make everything that happens into evidence for the idea that gun control is bad.

On the other hand, maybe a good policy response would be legislation that makes it illegal for mentally unstable people to possess guns? There might be more public support and less NRA resistance for a law like that.


Posner writes "The paranoid Right in the United States fears that efforts to disarm the population are a prelude to a military coup d’état, though they do not explain how the possession of pistols, rifles, and shotguns would enable civilians to foil such a coup."

This is a logical mis-step and a straw man to the "paranoid right" position. The question is will a coup d'etat be attempted, not can it be foiled. The paranoid Right would reply that the possession of arms is a disincentive to war being waged, not an absolute barrier. Common sense supports the position that it is more prudent to take steps to remove the rights/possessions/lives of the unarmed than the armed.

Another motivating factor regarding possession that you do not mention: Some of us like to have arms just in case, in that I would prefer to have a gun that I do not need than need a gun that I do not have. Gun owners also tend to resent any implication or policy passed with the logic that because some small minority (lunatics) can not be trusted with guns responsibility we should remove/restrict guns from society. The move would seem a bit overbroad, no?


Posner's right. This is a cultural thing - I'm a Brit and to us the difference is rather obvious. May I make a suggestion? Allow people to own guns, provided they are painted pink. Nonpink guns should carry a 500% duty. And just as anyone caught in possession of an unlicensed handgun in Britain gets an automatic 5-year jail term, so any American caught in possession of a nonpink gun without a receipt for the duty should expect to go down. This will place the functional and cultural roles of gun ownership in clear tension, so that the signaling effects are visible to all.

Ashley Higgins

Surely the argument that all should be deprived or regulated because some are crazy or criminal should be scoffed at by reasonable people.


Excerpts from an article by DAVE WORKMAN


When the Detroit Free Press recently revealed that six years under a liberalized concealed-carry law in Michigan have not resulted in higher rates of violent crime, gun battles at traffic stops, more police slayings and other gloom-and-doom scenarios, the newspaper put the lie to all the rhetoric against passage of the statute in Michigan, and every other state where so-called “right-to-carry” (RTC) laws have been adopted.

Reporter Dawson Bell noted that in the years since Michigan lawmakers passed RTC, “The incidence of violent crime . . . has been, on average, below the rate of the previous six years. The overall incidence of death from firearms, including suicide and accidents, has also declined.”

....Woodhaven Police Chief Michael Martin with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police acknowledging that his group’s expectations of increased violence were unfulfilled.

Everything foes of self-defense and firearms rights said in their efforts to prevent Michigan from joining more than 40 other progressive states that have adopted sensible RTC laws was patently false. Their hysteria about “Wild West shootouts” and increased death among youths stands refuted by six years of experience, the same kind of experience reported in other states with similar statutes.

Compare this record with what has been occurring in Britain over the past decade, where a sweeping gun ban has made it difficult to own even a shotgun for sporting purposes, handguns are outlawed and fighting back can get you thrown in prison. According to the Jan. 10 edition of the Guardian, gun crime in the United Kingdom has jumped 400 percent in that decade.

Gene Hoffman


Amusingly an acquaintance of mine has recently gotten some notoriety for exactly the act of creating a pink AR-15: http://blog.riflegear.com/archive/2007/12/26/hello-kitty-ar-15---evil-black-rifle-meets-cute-and.aspx

Note that the practical response in the US has been law enforcement alerts...

At this point, the speech issues of rifles "looking evil" have entered the political debate due to misplaced emphasis on evil features as a basis to prohibit weapons that are in most cases less powerful than classic wooden stocked rifles


Tim Lambert

Lott fails o mention that the paper he links never made it through peer review. He doesn't tell you that a peer-reviewed paper by Duwe, Kovandzic and Moody in Homicide Studies 2002 6:4 analyzed the same data and found:

Right-to-carry (RTC) laws mandate that concealed weapon permits be granted to qualified applicants. Such laws could reduce the number of mass public shootings as prospective shooters consider the possibility of encountering armed civilians. However, these laws might increase the number of shootings by making it easier for prospective shooters to acquire guns. We evaluate 25 RTC laws using state panel data for 1977 through 1999. We estimate numerous Poisson and negative binomial models and find virtually no support for the hypothesis that the laws increase or reduce the number of mass public shootings.

John Lott

As you know, Lambert, the Duwe, Kovandzic and Moody study looked at only those cases where four or more people were murdered. They did get a statistically significant result because the number of cases in sample was so small. We also got a statistically insignificant result for that case. We got statistically significant results for two or more murders, three or more murders, two or more people killed or injured and so on. It is just when we narrowed the sample to such a small number of events as just four or more murders, no one gets statistically significant results.

John Lott

Sorry typo in previous post

As you know, Lambert, the Duwe, Kovandzic and Moody study looked at only those cases where four or more people were murdered. They did not get a statistically significant result because the number of cases in sample was so small. We also got a statistically insignificant result for that case. We got statistically significant results for two or more murders, three or more murders, two or more people killed or injured and so on. It is just when we narrowed the sample to such a small number of events as just four or more murders, no one gets statistically significant results.

Tim Lambert

The difference between Lott's and Duwe's results is not that a smaller sample made their results insignificant. The size of the decreases that Lott found woud have been significant, even with a smaller sample. In Duwe's sample the decreases are much smaller and are increases in some specifications. The smaller sample has a big advantage—it is possible to collect every single such shooting, while the larger sample is likely biased by the omission of some cases.


"... a well regulated militia". It would seem the Founding Fathers had a notion that regulation, not "control" was the way to go. Regulation in the way we regulate automobiles is attractive. What does Posner think of it?

An alternative is for Congress to implement "a well regulated militia" as the Second Amendment says. The basic proposition of that would be for everyone who chose to own a firearm to be responsible under militia discipline for it's care, use and control. Having a weapon not listed with the militia would be a criminal offence. Anything that made one unfit for militia duty -for instance being in prison or mentally ill in a potentially dangerous manner - would mean you would have to leave your weapon in the militia armoury. How would Posner view such a "constitutionalist" form of regulation?

Panic about mis-use of firearms in the USA is obviously mis-placed. The other countries that may have roughly similar proportions of gun owners in the population include Afghanistan, Columbia (and perhaps Iraq nowadays). People emigrate in droves to getaway from those guns: they do their best to immgrate into the USA. The US finding that having a swimming pool in the house is much more dangerous to children in the household than having a gun in the house is only one indication of how responsible Americans are with the hundreds of millions of guns in circulation. The only other nation that I know of that combines very widespread holding of firearms with a generally responsible attitude to their use is Switzerland; where the whole and relativly very large army is "a well regulated militia".

Peter Pearson

An often-overlooked datum relevant to the "Tyrrany" argument is that during the 20th century, malfunctioning socialist governments killed an average of about 1 million of their own citizens per year. To the extent that arming the citizenry reduces the probability of such a development, the excess deaths can be viewed as an insurance premium.


"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
If you want to ban guns in the USA you'll have to start by repealing the second amendment.
That would be a mistake.
The parts of Europe that restrict or ban private gun ownership have a much higher rate of crimes like hot burglary than the USA. I attribute that directly to the willingness and ability of American citizens to defend themselves. A criminal who invades a home in the USA risks his life. I like it that way.

You yourself are protected by the herd immunity provided by the gun owners around you. You can test this by posting a large sign in your front yard. "This home is a gun-free zone."
Hard cases make bad law. Don't throw out the baby along with the bathwater.


It's not just the US culture with respect to guns that bothers me but also the US culture with respect to getting along with each other in general. When confronted with a societal problems generally, the US culture seems to favor hurting each other over helping each other.I'll get to guns in a minute but, living in the LA area, the US culture with respect to traffic safety is what really hits home every day. There are a variety of things people can do to improve their safety in traffic: don't talk on a mobile phone, leave a safe following distance, be cautious when changing lanes, don't drive far in excess of the speed limit, buy a car with safety features, buy a car that is heavier than other cars on the road, etc. So what do Americans do? They buy the heavier car. They choose the option that puts others at risk. When I'm out on the freeway I am constantly being passed by people in large SUV's (frequently jacked-up pick-up trucks), who are talking on mobile phones while driving far in excess of the speed limit (or even the speed of other traffic) and doing extremely reckless maneuvers like tail-gating and last minute multiple lane changes.When it comes to crime, there are a variety of things a person can do to decrease risk. Risk of home burglary can be decreased with alarms, lights, cameras, locks, and fences, for examples. If one is really concerned about crime one can even work to eliminate the root causes of crime by contributing (financially or otherwise) to organizations that work to reduce such things as poverty and drug addiction. Of course, there's also guns. Obviously, someone who lives out in the Alaska wilderness with the nearest police two hours away by sea-plane is in a vastly different situation than someone who live in a suburban environment with the nearest police two blocks away. Nonetheless, in my view the culture in the US tends too much toward individuals looking for ways to hurt each other rather than help each other as a means of dealing with crime.So, what to do? Something that would never be politically feasible but would dramatically change gun culture in the US would be to impose an essentially mandatory one year prison sentence for shooting someone with a gun and an essentially mandatory ten year prison sentence for killing someone with a gun - regardless of whether it was an "accident" or "self defense" or whether the gun user was the vice-president or an illegal immigrant gang member (law enforcement would be exempt, though). There could be limited exceptions for people who were unaware of the presence of the gun (e.g. a postal employee who jostles a parcel containing a loaded gun) but the basic message would be that if it's important enough to shoot someone then it should be important enough that you're willing to do some hard time yourself.The basic idea would be to encourage people to think about and utilize the non-violent rather than violent ways to be safe from crime. If there is one solution to a societal problem that involves hurting people and another that doesn't, the solution that doesn't is preferable (unless you just happen to enjoy hurting people).

Tom Kamenick

"This position is not responsive, however, to the problem of lunatics who use guns to commit mass murder as a prelude to committing suicide. When neither deterrence nor incapacitation is effective against some type of crime, preventive measures must be taken, and they include raising the price of some essential input."

Isn't raising the cost merely another deterrent? Like was mentioned before, a higher cost isn't going to stop someone who has no thought of consequences because they are just going to kill themselves.

I think it has to be realized that there are cases where it is impossible to prevent someone from making the choice to go out in a blaze of glory, and people need to start thinking about how best to minimize the damage. An armed citizenry won't deter that suicide killer, but it will cut down on the casualties.


“The paranoid Right in the United States fears that efforts to disarm the population are a prelude to a military coup d’état, though they do not explain how the possession of pistols, rifles, and shotguns would enable civilians to foil such a coup.”
-Professor Posner

“To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”
-James Madison, more in Federalist 46

I worry less about the military that I do about some sort of Globalist power grab in the aftermath of the collapse of the social safety net. Armed taxpayers are comforting to me, and probably the majority of the military leadership as well. Maybe that makes me paranoid.


When neither deterrence nor incapacitation is effective against some type of crime, preventive measures must be taken, and they include raising the price of some essential input. This sounds like the premise behind Sarbannes-Oxley Act, the Patriot Act and other "punish the innocent" legislation that does not appreciably affect the targeted act. Because guns are more lethal than knives or fists, measure to raise the price of guns will not cause large-scale substitution into these other methods of murdering people This only make sense because the compared group is so narrow and unrealistic; mass murderers would turn to serial killing, poison, arson or just running a car through crowds.The proximate cause is restrictive gun laws, but these are democratic countries and they would not have such strict gun laws if their population had the same love of guns that ours does. I don't think this makes sense. Permissive gun ownership results from the second amendment, not democracy.


If I remember correctly, the last few perpetrators of such mass killings were all either mentally defective or pschologically disturbed. If the Nation concentrated on better mental health care instead of allowing such individuals to wander the streets alone and unsupervised, we might very well solve the problem at its roots (wasn't it Reagan who caused the mental institutions to be emptied out?). But then, Politicians and the Media have never been very good at root cause analysis. So, expect more incidents and make sure you practice "duck & cover". It may very well save your life.


After reading all of these responses, doesn't it become apparent why thinking of gun regulation as we do auto regulation would clean up the issues for sensible consideration?

Pandering to the idealogues on neither side, a consideration of such 'regulation' could substantially reduce the increasing carnage that these things are causing.

The absolutist positions, on both sides, are impractical, and unhelpful.

William Metcalfe

It is almost impossible to prevent Lunatics who desire murder from killing people. We should consider the attacks at the Universities as we would the 10 car pile up on highways. Efforts should be made to prevent mass killings, but there is a limit as to what can be done. Can you image the chaos if metal detectors were installed at the gates of a school? The need for guns is quite often related to magical thinking. Think of how many gun owners, especially criminals, who actually do not know how to handle a gun. Most of their experience comes second hand from the visual media.
Surely some of the older readers of this blog remember the suicide bombers in the 70’s, who ignited their bombs on airborne airplanes, thus killing themselves and the other passengers. The desire to kill others as a adjunct to one’s suicide would be difficult to curtail. The suicide bombers would have been middle class for flying for expensive in those far off days.
As for ordinary citizens who feel the need to own a gun, there are several decrees which could minimize their need. Paranoia fear has been rampant in this country for several decades. Part of the reason is the emotional separation among the citizens. We are truly a nation of strangers and the fear of the unknown person is a powerful motivator for a citizen to arm himself with a firearm to to alleviate fear. I am fearful of the well armed frighten citizen. If I am in a restaurant sitting opposite a couple of cops with their revolvers displayed, I am not worried. They are trained and retrained, I hop, to use their guns. If at another table there is a man in a suit and tie with a barely concealed gun, I am going to worry. Does he have a legitimate reason to carry a weapon or is it merely fear? Does he know how to use a gun? If a crime occurs and he pulls his gun, will it stop the crime or will it only add to the confusion and a hale of bullets?
The level of paranoia could be lower if TV’s were prohibited from dwelling on crime scenes. An anchor person could read an account of the crime and this would create a psychic distance between the event and the audience. Several studies have shown a direction correlation between the amount of Television watching and a state of diffuse fear. The news casts might not be as great a factor if their were watched in larger groups. Unfortunately, in American almost everyone has a TV. When I was young the entire family would gather at the TV, as at a watering hole; now the each member of the family sits in a darken room with the company of well-coifed anchors.
Another way to limit the number of guns in society is for the state/city to require registration and familiarization. The registered gun would have to be accounted for on a regular basis to prevent the gun owner from making a sizable profit from the sell of his gun. The owner of a gun, which was stolen from a house from which nothing else had been removed, would be fined. Once every 6 months, the gun owner would have to show up, with his gun, at a police firing range and shoot off several magazines. Nothing banishes fear like a bumbling bureaucracy.

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