Jumping off of W. Jerome’s recent post on gun control, I think that the potential utilitarian benefits of permissive gun laws are under-appreciated by pro- and even many anti-gun folks alike.
Aside from giving individuals a means of defending themselves in absence of police protection, permissive gun laws act as a deterrent to potential criminals. If you’re a criminal, and your victim has a gun, that’s a pretty significant impediment to your committing a violent crime against that person. The more people own guns, the greater the chance that a criminal encounters this impediment when committing a crime. Anybody who know a bit of economics knows that when you raise the cost associated with something, people tend to do less of it, so if the potential cost associated with committing a crime is increased, then there should be fewer crimes. Of course, you’d need some good empirical studies to prove this (and maybe there are some out there), but I think it makes sense in theory.
If this is true, then increased rates of gun ownership are, in the technical sense of the term, a public good. Because public goods tend to be under-provided by the free market, this argument could be extended to support something like the compulsory gun ownership bill that Vermont State Rep. Fred Maslack notoriously introduced ten years ago. To be clear, I agree with the consensus that Maslack’s bill was crazy for a bunch of reasons. But I do think that people should have a greater appreciation of the potential benefits of gun ownership. And I also think that a mandatory gun ownership law is at least as well justified as a mandatory voting law, though for some reason, support of the latter is considered much more respectable.