An old person in a bad neighborhood in Chicago has yet again used a gun to defend herself against some hooligans.

Margaret Matthews, 68, said she had been harassed for more than a year by a pair of boys in her South Shore neighborhood. On Tuesday, the boys stood on a shed in her front yard hurling bricks at her. Matthews, exasperated and uncertain whether police would respond, pulled out a gun and shot at them.

In this instance, Ms. Matthews was clearly being threatened. She is a frail old lady and was being harassed by boys who were throwing bricks at her. One of the bricks hit her in the chest. She had called the police shortly before this incident occurred, in response to the boys breaking her windows as she returned home.

Given this situation, what do gun control advocates suggest Ms. Matthews do? She called the police. They didn’t do anything. How is she to defend herself? Doesn’t she at least have a right to? She lives in a frightening neighborhood and was hit in the chest by a brick. If everyday citizens aren’t allowed to defend themselves and must only depend on the state for protection (which clearly didn’t work here), the people who need protection most aren’t going to get it. Short of a policeman on every corner – aka a “police state” – people at some point will inevitably have to defend themselves. This instance is a pretty good example, I think, of how the right to own a gun actually deters crime.

Yeah, it’s a sample size of one. But this is a pretty good story of what charter schools can do.

Way back, Carson talked about how people generally make up their minds on certain issues before even hearing the two sides of an argument. People will furthermore only hear what they want to hear – and what they want to hear is what agrees with them. I think the issue of guns, and gun control more specifically, is a great example of this. Although one court case is trying to change the image of the gun rights issue, guns carry a stigma with a lot of people that they will probably never be able to shake off.

I grew up in a neighborhood where guns were pretty much non-existent. In fact, I can’t think of anyone from my childhood who owned a gun. We lived in a safe neighborhood where self-protection wasn’t an immediate concern (though this incident in Wilmette did get national attention) and not many hunters were around. As a result, I grew up kind of thinking guns were creepy – and still kind of do. Guns are for redneck Southerners, gangbangers, animal-torturing lunatics, and/or general weirdos. Guns have no place in a society made up of educated, law-abiding citizens. Or at least, so I believed.

I think this impression of guns sticks with a lot of people. Guns are weird and unnecessary and having gun control legislation- or maybe even the complete ban on guns – makes the world a better place. But once I tried to look at gun rights and gun control objectively, I started to realize that gun control is pretty damn stupid. Gun control has a few aims, among them:

  • Stop criminals from getting guns.
  • Stop innocent children accidentally killing themselves from guns around the house.

Stop criminals from getting guns. Does gun control really do this? There are more than 10,000 laws about gun ownership and purchasing on the books. Is one more really going to stop bad guys from getting them? In fact, gun control can even help to fund organized crime. Gun control is somewhat of a Prohibition on guns. Like Prohibition of alcohol or drugs, organized crime – gangs, the mob – profit by supplying hard to get or illegal items. Criminals commit crimes, by definition. Why would they care to respect laws regarding gun control?

We often hear of horror stories involving children who wandered into their parents closet and then shot themselves by accident. But how often does this really happen? Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, is often cited for his quote that “If you own a gun and have a swimming pool in the yard, the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.” Basically, yeah, guns kill kids. So do bath tubs, toasters, and scissors.

Ok ok. I know gun ownership is a much more complicated subject than what I just laid out. In the end, it is essentially a cost-benefit analysis (if we are only looking at the matter on utilitarian grounds) of the good gun ownership does in crime deterrence versus the bad it does by widening access. But, I’ll just say briefly that looking at statistics and studies that compare states with right to concealed weapons and states without, I believe that gun control does more harm than good. John Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime is a great synopsis.

For the time being, rather than get into a detailed debate on gun control, I want to focus on a specific court case going on now. Rather than being a hunter or redneck, Otis McDonald is just an old dude who lives in a bad Chicago neighborhood. For the sake of time, let’s analyze gun control as it applies to Otis’s situation. Otis lives in a neighborhood full of crime and gangs. He is often threatened outside his house in broad daylight for apparently doing nothing wrong. Otis wants a gun to protect himself.

Gun control advocates would say that rather than give Otis a gun, we should work harder to take the guns away from the people that are making Otis feel unsafe. I think that the situation at hand makes that solution impractical. Like I said before, preventing those fiends from getting guns would be impossible unless we had a police state. Like alcohol during Prohibition or drugs now, people always find a way to get their hands on stuff the want. The people who bother Otis, especially.

So what is Otis to do? Call the police whenever people threaten him? Come on. That might take 15 minutes and by that time he’s either dead or the threatening people have scattered. Giving Otis a gun – or, at least convincing the troublemakers that Otis might legally have a gun – is a deterrence in itself. Right now, only the troublemakers have guns. They know they have the upper hand. Law-abiding citizens have nothing to defend themselves but the police. The possibility of Otis owning a gun and its deterrent effects is seen by right to carry concealed weapons laws. If people are allowed to carry concealed weapons on the street, not every citizen will buy a gun; but if criminals know that some people are packing heat, it definitely will make them think twice about robbing just anybody. I think the proof is in the pudding (pictured here) for the effects of something like this when one looks at statistics.

I know gun control is a complicated issue. I don’t mean to say that Otis’s situation is the only kind of situation in the battle over guns rights and gun control. However, it does beg the question: what is someone in Otis’s position – a black, blue-collar, septuagenarian – to do to protect himself?

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Robert Samuelson’s The Good Life and its Discontents. The basic idea of the book was that despite the enormous gains in material wealth for every economic class in America over the past few decades, people are increasingly dissatisfied with their lot in life and expect more and more entitlements. Even though I have a working refrigerator that is relatively energy efficient with more than enough space, I am disenchanted because my neighbor has two refrigerators that are huge. This makes me upset.

His whole point is the increasing sense of “entitlement” in American society. Things that weren’t dreamt of generations ago – like world class healthcare, college education, immunity from any sort of financial hardship – are now being considered “rights”. The book was mostly good.

I thought of Samuelson’s book in my recent flight from America to the United Kingdom. As I do twice a year, I was flying from Chicago to Edinburgh, with my initial starting point my house in a northern Chicago suburb and my final destination St Andrews, a town 50 or so miles away from Edinburgh. The whole journey takes about 13 hours door-to-door.

As I was nearing the end of my journey, I was realizing how amazing what I just did was. I was flown in a metal tube across an ocean in less than seven hours that also happens to be statistically the safest mode of transportation. Only decades ago, the Chicago to Edinburgh flight would have taken longer, cost three times as much, and been less safe. A hundred years ago, it would have taken days or even weeks to make the trip by boat.

I’ll be honest, the flight makes me nauseous and I get pretty badly jet lagged. But think of how much people complain about delayed flights, lost luggage, or pricey tickets. Instead of marveling at the amazingness of innovation, business, and entrepreneurship that created the system of transportation we have now, many people define air travel by its imperfections and see airlines as an unethical business.

I relate this ungratefulness and sense of entitlement to a lot of other areas. Example: The profit-driven American pharmaceutical industry creates about 99% of drugs in the world. They need to make money back for their billions spent on research, so the pills have high prices. Lots of old people take tens of pills a day to extend their lives to historical lengths. Instead of recognizing the brilliance that these drug companies are keeping them alive, drug companies – “Big Pharma” – are seen as evil and price-gouging in America. This relates to my previous post about people not appreciating the wonder of businessmen.

If there’s anything that I ask of people when in political discourse, it’s consistency. Don’t say you are in support of freedom of speech, and then choose to apply it only when the speech is in agreement with your beliefs. Don’t be against corporate bailouts, and then support the bailout of your favorite car company just because you think it’s a swell company. Etc., etc., etc.

However, there are times where this philosophical consistency is greatly at odds with our own self-interest, as hypocritical as it may be. For example, when Jerry Reinsdorf threatened to move the Chicago White Sox to Tampa Bay in the early 1990’s unless Chicago built a new stadium, I have to say honestly that I’d support such a move. The fact that taxpayer dollars go to build these ridiculous stadiums when professional teams can easily afford them anyways is absurd. I acknowledge the hypocrisy on my part.

The Beatles Rooftop Concert in 1969. Their last public appearance playing music together. It must have been incredible to be there. I know the members of the Beatles had a great time performing (or so I see in the videos). But let’s remember what’s going on here. There are thousands of people who are working innocently around the neighborhood and disturbed by the noise. This noise externality shouldn’t be allowed to go on, should it? Obviously, if Creed or Matchbox 20 or some other crappy band was playing, I would have no hesitations shutting them down. Here’s where the dilemma is. We need to have consistency, otherwise the tyranny of the majority says what’s alright and there’s no rule of law.

Would you have shut down the rooftop concert and, if not, would you allow Creed?