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?

In an ode to Carson’s post on moral intuitionism, I’d like to profess my belief in the idea that most people have made up their mind regarding the consequences of three specific well-intentioned schemes that aim to elevate the condition of the worst off in the world/country: the minimum wage, the campaign against sweatshops, and the fair trade movement. Most supporters of these three things assume that the desired aims are achieved and that any arguments against them wreak of indifference towards the plight of the poor.

Here are a few links devoted to each of the topics and suggested for anyone who has the time to read the pieces (some of them take a long time). They may not, in your eyes, be completely right. But at least they make legitimate arguments.

  • Interestingly enough, even progressive hero Paul Krugman supports sweatshops. Also, here are a good article and a short video on why sweatshops are a positive thing.
  • Paper arguing against the minimum wage for its (probable) adverse effect on low-skilled unemployment. Also briefly discusses the slim marginal benefit minimum wage has for its recipients and that egalitarians should focus more on proven effective measures like the negative earned income tax credit. There’s tons more good stuff out there on this subject (both for and against).
  • Fairtrade might not be all it’s cracked up to be. A long report. One piece. Another one. Yet another one. Fair Trade is an issue I’m a little less sure of. But I do think that people almost never acknowledge the possible downsides of it. Even if it has a positive impact or small negative impact, its possible positive effects are no match for the wonders of free trade and immigration in improving the situation of the least well off.