Saturday, July 21, 2012

The War on Gunowners

Something I've been planning on blogging on for a while, and what better time than now, since the media, feds, and other assorted opponents of our rights to self defense and firearm ownership have their campaign in high gear after the Colorado shooting.  As I emailed a friend earlier this week, "you will never, ever, ever see in national media a news story about American civilians using firearms to defend themselves successfully, even though there are roughly 2 million such incidents a year.  It doesn't fit the agenda, which is invariably to report *only* misuse and demonize firearms owners."

The Kleck studies suggest there are are thousands of instances daily of American civilians using firearms in self defense; in most cases it isn't necessary to even fire a shot.  But when it is, note that civilians have a higher rate of stopping criminals with gunfire than the police do, and a much lower rate of accidentally shooting non-criminals.  (A citizen being directly threatened by a criminal has little chance of misidentifying who is the criminal, for one thing.)

But you'll never find any of this mentioned in the mainstream media, nor by our civil "servants" and politicians.

We're now faced with a crescendo of voices attacking -- not the criminal responsible for the murders in CO -- but law-abiding gunowers (like me), the NRA and its members (like me), and advocates of an armed citizenry (like me).  The story is that "we need and could have gun control, but the evil NRA blocks it, to our detriment."  See if you can find any other message in this AP "news" story.

I've pointed out here previously that we, not the police, are by law responsible for our own defense,  and that gun control does not work, and that armed citizens are quite effective at reducing crime.  I could belabor these points, but will not.  Instead, I'll ask the following questions of gun control advocates: why would the fact that a criminal committed a viscous vicious action make me and my fellow law-abiding gunowners the target of a hate campaign?  And why are we expected to give up our natural rights because of a criminal's actions?  And while it's the least fundamental of these questions, I might as well also ask, what do you think is going to happen when you try to enslave us?  Do you really suppose we'll submit quietly?

A number of us understand very well what this war on gunowners is about.  As Jeffrey Snyder once put it eloquently,

"Gun control is a moral crusade against a benighted, barbaric citizenry. This is demonstrated not only by the ineffectualness of gun control in preventing crime, and by the fact that it focuses on restricting the behavior of the law-abiding rather than apprehending and punishing the guilty, but also by the execration that gun control proponents heap on gun owners and their evil instrumentality, the NRA...the antipathy many liberals have for gun owners arises in good measure from their statist utopianism...."

"...The private ownership of firearms is a rebuke to this utopian zeal. To own firearms is to affirm that freedom and liberty are not gifts from the state. It is to reserve final judgment about whether the state is encroaching on freedom and liberty, to stand ready to defend that freedom with more than mere words, and to stand outside the state's totalitarian reach."

Barack Obama's administration has been pursuing a "hidden" (i.e. largely ignored in the New York Times, CNN, ABC, and similar outlets) war on firearm ownership by America civilians.  The "Fast and Furious" operation and the support for the U.N. Small Arms Treaty are notable examples.  I expect that war to become overt, with the mainstream media taking a major role -- perhaps the major role -- as anti-gun propagandists.  I wonder how they think this can end?  Compromise?  Maybe we'll agree to only give up half of our rights today (and the remainder next year).  Many advocates of gun control are simply ignorant and in need of some teaching.  But those who demonize honest gunowners are enemies of freedom, and let's be plain: they're evil.  I don't think I will be compromising with them any time soon.

Here are two more questions for gun control advocates:  According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 24 June of this year, two strangers, a man and woman, broke into a home in Phoenix where a 14 year old boy was babysitting his three younger siblings. The boy managed to get his siblings upstairs, and when the armed man came after them he took his father's handgun and shot the man, seriously wounding him.  The man was arrested and taken to the hospital, the woman escaped, and the children were unharmed.  So my question for gun control advocates: why do you think you are justified in proposing laws that would have left the criminals free to rob, rape and kill these children?  Or for that matter, since the theatre in the Colorado shooting was a "gun free zone," how do you feel now that your rules have contributed to a bloodbath?

Photo: Rock River Arms LAR 15 Coyote model, one of our favorites here at Unforeseen Contingencies.

I am all for gun control: let the police, CIA, FBI, military, Coast Guard, BATF, Border Patrol, Secret Service, DEA, ICE, CBP and the rest of these creeps disarm, and then we'll talk about disarming ourselves. Maybe.

Alas, you seem to stepping into the same minefield as the Paleo-Dieter: the more you try to convince me that guns save lives, the weaker your argument is. In Iceland even the police have barely any weapons, and crimes rates there are essentially zero, especially violent crimes.

So, let us not worry too much about statistics and focus more on property rights, which is what this is all about anyway.

If you like the LAR 15, you should try that M16 with the thick barrel that fires the M855 green-tipped bullets. That thing can go through a freakin' wall.

And I'm pretty sure the action was vicious, not viscous.
Well, I don't foresee disarming the police and military any time soon. Here's why I disagree with your substantive points:

First, the comparison with paleo diet is inapt. The paleo hypotheses (if we can call them that) are not based in scientific research. They might or might not be correct, but currently have the status of "another diet fad." The arguments I'm making regarding firearms and crime are not simply untested hypotheses, i.e...

Second, there's solid evidence for my "guns reduce crime" statement, e.g work by Kleck, John Lott, FBI crime stats, etc. Similarly, I've seen U.K. Home Office crime summaries that show that as gun (and knife) controls became increasingly restrictive in U.K., crimes committed using guns (and knives) increased -- the trend in the U.S. is the other way. As the numbers of firearms in private hands increase, violent crime is falling. (Correlation isn't causation, we all know, but this is evidence that supports my point, not that of my opponents.)

Third, comparisons across countries that isolate one factor and ignore all other differences are useless. Switzerland is much more heavily armed than the United States, Israel too, yet have lower crime rates. If the United States were populated by Icelanders, living under Icelandic culture and institutions, your comparison might make sense. Simply from the standpoint of statistical theory, the comparison is essentially useless.

Fourth, I agree that the rights argument is the fundamental point (and say so in the post). But there are two kinds of people who support gun control -- those who wish to dis-empower us, and those who simply think it's the solution to crime. The latter are mostly well meaning, and it's important to address their arguments. Gun controls won't accomplish what they hope.

Fifth -- umm, this isn't one of those gun blogs, but what the heck. The LAR 15s do indeed handle any 5.56mm ammumunition, although I've mostly used civilian .223 ammunition in mine. The LAR 15 is indeed a civilian M16/M4; I believe that some are even in use in the military. (What was the point here, exactly? just an idle observation or did I miss some subtlety?)

Sixth, comments and spelling corrections always welcome. Thanks.
"As the numbers of firearms in private hands increase, violent crime is falling"

But what if that weren't the case? What if in Ruritania the increase in arms is correlated with an increase in crime? Don't the Ruritanians still have the right to defend themselves? A Ruritanian fighting for gun rights will have a hard time using your article to defend his position.

You read too much into my Iceland comment. I merely meant that Iceland proves that personal security can be achieved without weapons.

You also read too much into my LAR comment, which was just an idle observation. Relax.

Since Sheldon Richman censored my last comment on the Freeman, here it is, reproduced from memory:
I like Tom Palmer, and Walter Block as well. There is libertarian scholarship of value, but it is rare nowadays.

Cato is way too utilitarian for me, and nothing good can come out of association with the Kochs.

The Freeman is not even a joke anymore. Most people who write there should never have gradated from high school. The worst of them are Richman, Leef, and Horwitz--three children who have reached the level of LRC and the ARIans as people who no longer deserve even ridicule.
Thanks for your comment.

I disagree that utilitarian or consequantialist arguments are irrelevant. It's particularly so in this case. The right to keep and bear arms has extremely important political implications. If, instead, someone argues in favor of banning purple shirts, I'd oppose it, but I can't think of any particularly bad consequences that might arise from a lack of purple shirts. Concerning consequentialism, you're raising some deeper issues that call for an serious post, I think.

You're not off the hook on the Iceland comment. This was the sort of weak argumentation of which you're accusing the FEE writers (correctly, as the cites you provided show).

LAR 15: I'm pretty relaxed...just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something.

But let's get to the real point -- Walter Block? Yikes! He's one of the worst representatives of libertarianism and economics anywhere. I've tangled with him in person a few times over his dishonest misrepresentation of Coase and his strange ideas on utility. I've also had a post or two on his crackpottiness, for example this one. If you apply the same standard to Block that you do to Richman and Horwitz, Block will have a bad time of it.
Thank you for the Block link. I've never seen it before. It is indeed stupid, but there is nothing un-libertarian about it.

Block is the most consistent bona fide libertarian out there. I have never read anything he wrote with which I disagreed on a fundamental philosophical level. Stupidities like that, and like some of those in his Defending the Undefendable, are simply the result of hanging around the LvMI/LRC scum for too long.

I have often wondered about Block's association with LRC/LvMI scum. I have asked him about it in person, and to my chagrin and disappointment he seemed to have no idea what I'm talking about. He even gave me the "H.H. Hoppe is the foremost libertarian of our age…" crap that is laced throughout his published works.

So, Block's character and judgment are flawed, but not his philosophy. He is also not a racist, xenophobe, homophobe, or religious maniac. And, his scholarship is top notch, stupidities such as that article notwithstanding. I am, however, unfamiliar with his work on Coase, or with Coase's work itself.

Now, to say that he is one of the worst representatives of libertarianism anywhere is at best a gross exaggeration. In a world of FEE, LvMI, LRC, and ARI, a world of Hoppe, Szasz, Horwitz, North, Rockwell, Peikoff, Kinsella, and other forms of human dirt, one can do far, far worse than Walter Block.

I'll return to Iceland later, after I eat my sandwich.
Let me clarify my Iceland comment one last time, I hope. My Iceland comment was not meant to be a substantive argument. As an argument, it is flawed, as you correctly pointed out. That comment was meant to play the leftist devil's advocate.

Once you bring up statistics in an attempt to justify your gun rights argument, you are opening the debate to statistics from all over the place. Leftists have their own statistics, and you may lose that game because the statistics we pick are usually those we want to find, and the leftists have their Iceland-like statistics to present. Furthermore, as you get bogged down in the statistics game, you move away from the more important point, which is gun rights as property rights, not guns a weapons against crime.

The word generalization has a negative connotation in modern English, but generalization is actually a good thing. The whole idea of science is based on generalizations, on the idea that all electrons behave the same way under the same conditions, for example. A gun rights argument, as well as any other economic or philosophical argument, should be kept as general as possible to include as many situations and conditions as possible. See my Ruritania example: a good argument would work for the poor Ruritanian as well as it works for an American, and it would work now as well fifty years from now.
I believe you are the first person I have ever encountered who likes Block but doesn't like Hoppe, Rockwell, and the rest of the LvMI coots. That in itself makes you an interesting commenter.

I agree with you on one of your main points; Block is a consistent libertarian without any exception, so far as I know. That can't be said for many of the other Rockwell people. In general, I take exception to LvMI's (and Block's) "Austro-libertarianism;" this is a bastardization of two valuable sets of ideas -- Austrian economics and libertarianism. The former is positive economic theory, the latter is a normative political philosophy. The latter does not follow from the former. Rothbard is the father of this error, and his students -- Block included -- keep the error alive, and compound it by turning Austrian economics into a religion. That's my fundamental problem with them.

I call Block "one of the worst representatives" because of his association with this and and his very bad economic reasoning. (Personality: let's not discuss it. I'll just note I've met many people who were offended by him personally and felt driven away from Austrian and libertarian ideas as a result) (and I have heard him express racist ideas in private); more to the point, his scholarship is not "top-notch." He's earned reputation for mischaracterizing opposing views and then not changing his stance when this is pointed out to him (e.g. his exchanges with Demsetz, or his insistence that Neoclassical utility is cardinal). Also, his arguments are often shallow, e.g. his "refutation" of the concept of indifference, his argument on corruption in "Defending the Undefendable," his rejection of the concept of public goods. (BTW, he told me he wrote "Defending the Undefendable" right after finishing his doctoral dissertation, hence prior to the LvMI and his association with Hoppe, Rockwell, etc.)

Enough about Block. What are your beefs with the FEE guys? You particularly singled out Horwitz and Richman; they seem to me to be consistent libertarians.

I'll get to the statistics issue later; these are interesting points.

"Enjoy every sandwich." Warren Zevon
What do I dislike about the FEE guys? Where do I begin?

Let's just mention two before I go back to work:

1. In my blog, there are a few examples of the abysmally low scholarship that Richman et al produce. I haven't mentioned more because there's no use: they're all like that. "Liberty is cool" is not a convincing argument for or against anything. Neither is "government is bad". And "X is bad and government is bad, therefore government caused X" is a stupidity that needs no refutation. If that is too general, pick something those clowns have written and let's see if I can't destroy its "reasoning" in ten different ways. These people are simply children.

Horwitz in particular is not a consistent libertarian because he is not a libertarian, or if he is, he has never given an argument that shows that he understands the basics of libertarianism. When I read his columns, I see a confused man who thinks he likes something but can't explain why.

Richman is an editor in the same way I'm a professional surfer. No bad argument is bad enough for him if the conclusion is "less government". The production of Wisconsin cheese is at an all-time low? Government! Cancer is on the rise? Government! Just tie a bad thing to the word "government" and that clown will publish it.

2. Szaszianism: here is where the FEE scum and the LvMI/LRC scum join hands. Belief in the Szaszian mythology separates those who are merely stupid from those who are outright vicious. As a mythology, Szaszianism makes even less sense than "standard" religions because it is easier to refute. As an ideology of hate it is worse than mere racism because it picks on some of the most miserable people on earth. I'll repeat: mere stupidity cannot explain a belief in Szaszianism; there must be an underlying moral defect.

Enter Richman.

The belief in Szaszianism also underscores the deep-seated hatred that Rockwell, Richman, et al have for science. They know nothing about it, but they are experts when it comes to pissing on its products.

As an aside, have you noticed that there are no prominent libertarians who are scientists, and no prominent scientists who are libertarians? There are many reasons for that, but a big thank you should go to Rockwellhorwitzrichmanszasz
When you talk about corruption in Defending the Undefendable, to which chapter(s) are you alluding? I'd like to review those.
By "Szaszianism" you mean Thomas Szasz, right? What is your beef with his ideas? I've only read "ceremonial Chemistry" which I thought was indisghtful. I think his criticism of the "mental illness" paradigm is correct so far as I understand it; the history of the classification and subsequent declassification of homosexuality as a "disease" is a good example. However, he qualified his "no such thing as mental illness" with the idea that to be illness there must be some underlying brain (or other physical) dysfunction. I believe that researchers have now found such physical disorders in many mental illnesses. Anyway, so far as I know, "Szaszianism" is no more than this.

Feel free to list some of your key posts here and I'll read them.

Defending the Undefendable: there's a chapter on corrupt policemen taking bribes.

I'm about to head into the mountains for a week so will be away from blogistan for a while.
This comment has been removed by the author.
PL -- I think I see everything I just requested on your site.
Forgive me if I'm blunt, but you don't seem to know anything about Szasz's "ideas", if they are worthy of that title.

"the history of the classification and subsequent declassification of homosexuality as a "disease" is a good example."

An example of... what exactly?

"However, he qualified his 'no such thing as mental illness' with the idea that to be illness there must be some underlying brain (or other physical) dysfunction"

Not even close. Szasz is adamant that mental illness is not and cannot be a brain illness, although he never bothered to explain why. The Szaszian religion maintains a strict separation between brain and mind, as most religions do.

"I believe that researchers have now found such physical disorders in many mental illnesses."

Tell that the Szasz, who has not and will not change his views on the subject.

"Anyway, so far as I know, "Szaszianism" is no more than this."

Seriously? How about the claim that all those suffering from mental illness are malingerers and liars?

You don't seem to know anything about the Szaszian religion, so it's better we dropped the issue. I'm much more interested in your criticism of Block's praise of the corrupt cop. I'll reread it as soon as I have the time, but if memory serves, that was a good chapter.
I've reread Block's The Dishonest Cop (Ch. 13 here: The only thing about it that is confusing is the ambiguity of his distinction between the "demanding corrupt cop" (DCC) and the "accepting corrupt cop" (ACC).

If by DCC Block means a cop who says "give me money or I'll arrest you for whatever illegal thing you're doing," then the DCC and the "accepting corrupt cop" (ACC) are essentially the same thing. The only distinction is that the DCC initiates the transaction and the ACC doesn't. If by DCC he means a cop who says "give me money or I'll break your skull", then this is extortion by any sane standard. I'm assuming that the former is the correct interpretation.

Block goes on to argue that even the DCC is better than the Serpico who would do his "legal duty" to arrest the gambler or some other non-criminal whose activities are considered illegal.

So, what is the problem here? If my interpretation is correct, this seems to make perfect sense. The DCC at least gives the gambler a choice, whereas the Serpico doesn't. The DCC is not only superior to the Serpico in practice but also morally: whereas the Serpico would arrest (or shove into a gas chamber) anyone if told to do so "by law" or by a commanding officer, the DCC at least recognizes that "the law" and the commanding officer need not necessarily be obeyed. The Nazi soldiers in WWII were essentially good, obedient Serpicos. How different would things have been had they been corrupt?

In conclusion, assuming my interpretation is correct, I'm with Block 100% here, and I invite you to explain where he went wrong.
I am not so impressed with "Kleck studies" as a basis for suggesting that an armed public is somehow 'safer'. He clearly has a point of view, and the outcome of his 'research' seems pre-ordained. While there may be legitimate instances of of alert, well-trained, clear-thinking armed individuals thwarting crime, I remain skeptical of the ability of the vast majority of gun owners to do so.
From the "Correlation is not Causation" department: an article in The Atlantic (The Geography of Fun Deaths") found that "Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48). And concluded that "While the causes of individual acts of mass violence always differ, our analysis shows fatal gun violence is less likely to occur in richer states with more post-industrial knowledge economies, higher levels of college graduates, and tighter gun laws. Factors like drug use, stress levels, and mental illness are much less significant than might be assumed."
'Gun' deaths

I can't say I have much respect for statements such as "I have heard him [Block] express racist ideas in private."

If you say something like that, it's only fair that you quote him as well as memory allows so the reader may judge for himself whether Block's statements were racist or not. Nowadays practically any politically-incorrect statement may be labelled as racist, so fairness requires you to provide details.
Thanks to both of you for comments. I will respond more completely at some point (after the Elkhorn 50K this weekend).

Quick replies, though:

Keith, you haven't provided any substantive critique of the Kleck studies, just that you think he's dishonest. What response is possible other than "OK, now something substantive please."

PL (on Block): I give the details of Block's comments on race in this post. I don't care if you respect my statement or not; I'm simply stating what I know.

Concerning the corrupt cop; Block's argument is that the ACC & DCC are both superior to the honest cop. Shleifer and Vishny have a QJE paper that seriously analyzes these issues. Their analysis shows that the situation is ambiguous, certainly not what Block shows. There's a fairly substantial empirical literature on corruption that suggests that sometimes (not always) corrupt officials not enforcing bad regulations can make things even worse.

PL on Szasz: I've read things Szasz has written that directly contradict what you've said. OTOH, I have not read a lot of Szasz, nor anything he's written in the last 10 years. So I agree to punt here.
So this is the paragraph:
||"At the dinner, Walter Block announced that Charles Murray's "Bell Curve" was coming out (it hadn't been made public to that point). Block then expressed delight that it would prove blacks were inferior and that this would mean the government would stop wasting money trying to educate "those people."||

If Block actually said "blacks are inferior to whites", then it is indeed very troubling. I wasn't there, so I can't tell. Nevertheless, my guess is that he didn't say that; he said something that you interpreted as meaning that. Again, I have no way of knowing.

The LvMI/LRC scum are very open about their xenophobia, racism, homophobia, conspiracy theories, holocaust denial, science denialism, etc. They celebrate it as that special ingredient that separates them from "leftist libertarians". Had Block been a racist, I think I would have read him at some point giving a "libertarian argument" for something heinous.

||There's a fairly substantial empirical literature on corruption that suggests that sometimes (not always) corrupt officials not enforcing bad regulations can make things even worse.||

I'd have to read that QJE paper first, however I don't know what "make things even worse" means. Worse for whom? I don't see how you can defend such a statement without resorting to collectivist arguments about "the good of society" or what not.
I don't see how that Shleifer and Vishny paper has anything to do with Block's ACC/DCC. The paper begins: "We define government corruption as the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain." The ACC and DCC steal nothing--not from government, at least. They merely avoid committing aggression in exchange for money or some other favors. When it comes to arresting prostitutes, gamblers, drug dealers, and other non-criminal "criminals", the ACC and DCC are indeed superior to the "honest" cop. I can't imagine a libertarian argument that would make the "honest" cop look better than the ACC/DCC.

Now, if the situation at hand were a murderer who pays a cop to look the other way, then we'd have a different (and quite interesting) situation because here we have a real criminal who's getting away. But Block deliberately (I assume) chose gamblers and drug dealers, and the situation there is crystal-clear.

Block's arguments are rock-solid.
I wish to make a correction:

On August 10-11, 2012, I had a brief but intensive email exchange with Walter Block. He was kind enough to answer my questions, he was polite, and he was honest.

He has also made me realize that my assessment of him was incorrect. He is, after all, a member in good standing of the LvMI/LRC scum. I withdraw my defense of him. My defense of his corrupt cop arguments hasn't changed.
PL, I've been away, didn't mean to drop the conversation.

Re Block: I certainly admire your willingness to practice what you preach.

Re Block's "corrupt cop" argument: I have understood it as a more general argument than these specific victimless crime examples. If the corruption is properly limited, then Block is right. And the SV argument allows for this, that's why the general case is amibiguous. But it's possible for a corrupt cop or other govt enforcer to take bribes and actually make things worse (i.e. reduce freedom, increase deadweight losses, transfer property to those whom it doesn't belong -- no "social welfare" criterion needed).

I might be mistaken in attributing the general argument to Block. I've heard people who accept his argument do this, but perhaps we missed his point.
Of course corrupt cops can be purely bad, as I argued before. If I pay a cop to break the arms of my business competitor, then of course there's no defense or justification for that.

It all comes down to his: does the corrupt cop take money in order to avoid committing aggression, or does he take it in order to commit aggression? I don't think Block's choice of drug dealers and prostitutes was random. But then, in the poetical words of Tony Soprano, I don't know nothing no more.
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