Wednesday 2 June 2010

Its not easy being libertarian ...

Owing to the persistent unpopularity of the 'whoever governs least governs best' philosophy.

But sometimes you might get a chance to catch the national mood.

Take today's killings in Cumbria.

For most people, a difficult to understand tragedy.

But, for the Libertarian Alliance, the ideal opportunity to dash out a press release arguing that it would never happen if only we were to repeal all firearms restrictions:

“The Libertarian Alliance believes that all the Firearms Acts from 1920 onwards should be repealed. The largely ineffective laws of 1870 and 1902 should also be repealed. It should once again be possible for adults to walk into a gun shop and, without showing any permit or proof of identity, buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they can afford".

After all, as the LA points out , in the US, "at least one campus shooting was brought to a premature end by armed civilians".

Evidence-based policymaking!


MatGB said...

Ok, purely for the sake of, well, debate?

It is at least a consistent viewpoint, and one that does make sense within a "the state should do as little as possible" mindset. I have a few, very liberal, left wing, friends in the US, who are also gun nuts.

They don't trust the police, at all. Many would say, having looked at the US police in some states, for good reason.

If this sort of thing happens in the UK, or in an area of high gun control in the US, what happens? You have to wait for the police to turn up, find the person doing it, and then deal with it.

In Texas? He'd have been shot by a passerby almost immediately. The corrollary, of course, is that our fairly high non-homicide violent crime rate would fall, with a concomittent rise in homicides.

It's not an idea I agree with, I like living in a society where guns are rare, and if you're not a cop, you're a criminal and armed response is on the way.

But for the Libs, it's a consistent position, and one that is at least coherent.

Bill Kristol-Balls said...

Have the NRA blamed it on trenchcoats yet?

Old Politics said...

Yeah. I think the gap in the logic is about the number of incidents and how rapidly it would rise if everyone had easy access to guns.

If you only analyse things as a one-off, on the other hand, then there's certainly an argument that in the individual case that in a society where weapons are routinely carried he might not have managed to shoot 37 people without one of them shooting back.

But that's mad - it requires the view that one person killing twelve people in a shooting spree is somehow qualitatively worse than twelve people killing one person each (or, indeed, than fifty people killing one person each).

Firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population per year

US: 11.72
England and Wales: 0.38

Even stripping out suicides (shooting yourself is a far more popular method in the US than the UK, evidently) you're still more than 20 times more likely to be shot to death in the US than the UK.

Anonymous said...

In Texas? He'd have been shot by a passerby almost immediately.

Wikipedia's page on Spree killers - to use the first thing that comes to hand - lists eight instances in the US. 1 in Texas, 1 Nebraska/Wyoming, 1 in DC, 1 in Alabama, 1 in Minnesota, 1 in Missouri/California and 2 in Virginia (I leave it to someone else to make a judgement call on the strictness of gun laws in those states). Of those sprees, 3 ended when the shooter committed suicide, 4 ended in arrest/surrender to the police and 1 was killed, by a police officer, in Texas.

In this longer list there are some instances of being shot dead by someone other than a police officer in the US, but they are still outnumbered by arrests, suicides and being shot by cops. And seem to have only taken place in the more distant past.

There's probably a rational reason for this lack of citizen justice beyond common sense. If there are shots being fired, people rolling about covered in blood and sirens in the air then you would need to be damn sure you knew who the target was. Brandish your weapon and the next thing you know you're dead, killed by cops - or, why not, someone else with a gun - who think you're the one who is responsible.

Sunder Katwala said...

Old Politics,

Thanks for providing the figures to secure the point.


Well, yes, it may be consistent within that worldview, but the reality-based community is allowed to see whether we have any information to test the hypothesis before we implement it on the basis of these very confident assertions.

As well as the rather crass attention-seeking, I was mocking the attempt to provide an "evidence base" with "at least one" anecdote from a country which everybody knows has liberal gun laws and a much higher murder rate.

CS Clark suggests that even these mooted benefits of citizen justice are a little mythical. (I rather suspect wikipedia may have been the research source for LA as well. Perhaps they were disappointed not to be able to cite "at least three" examples).

Unknown said...


Unsurprisingly I wholeheartedly commend the LA's statement on arms control. It is consistent to their world view and a prompt anticipation of the discussion of arms control which will inevitably follow.

For the sake of debate I would like to suggest that you look at Switzerland. Gun ownership is widespread in Switzerland owing to Switzerland's military culture being primarily militia based. Recreational gun sport is also very high as is the prevalence of privately owned firearms amongst civilians.

Gun crime in Switzerland is very low in respect of how widespread gun ownership is. This suggests that the link between gun crime and gun ownership is more tenuous than knee-jerk reactions take for granted. On the contrary due to the fact that guns are so prevalent in Switzerland firearm training and education is very high.

You are, of course, right in one respect. It is not easy being a libertarian at all. Most of our opinions seem to be the opposite of the most obvious knee-jerk reactions but since knee-jerk reactions are overwhelmingly proven incorrect I'd say it's burden worth carrying.


mpg said...

Hi Sara

Surely one also has to take into account other factors outside of gun ownership and gun laws in counter-examples?

I understand that Canada also has widespread gun ownership and much more liberal gun laws than we have with proportionately fewer incidents of gun crime than the US. Isn't a justified liberal response to this that if you have evidence that gun liberalisation in your society would lead to more not less gun crime, than gun control is a legitimate liberal response? Or at least one of several justifiable liberal responses.

I welcome your thoughts.


James Bloodworth said...

The same people who, now the bailouts have cleared, are damning "over-intrusive regulation".