I've just been reading a post about the legal status of pepper spray in Australia1, which seems to also serve a secondary purpose, which is airing the author's views on gun ownership for personal protection. While I believe in the ideas of liberalism, I tend to tread a line somewhere between classic and social or modern liberalism. The so called nanny state is something to avoid, in my opinion, but placing legal restrictions on the ownership and use of personal firearms is not what I would consider nannying. Indeed, I believe one of John Howard's most courageous actions as Prime Minister was the changes made to firearms laws after the Port Arthur massacre.
As useful as fear of events like Port Arthur is for finding public support for firearms bans, the (possibly) increased likelihood of mass killings are not the reason I would oppose any relaxation of firearms laws2. The comments over there are have a bunch of statements like this:
Except that nowhere in the world has there been a situation where strict gun laws have made citizens safer.
The trouble is I haven't seen any evidence3 that to suggest that that's true. At least one commenter argues that an armed population would result in fewer people 'starting trouble' because of a fear that their victims may be armed, even going to the extreme of saying:
Two 100kg body builder type guys who want to victimize a 50kg woman can be immediately met with incapacitating or lethal force, their size and strength advantage means almost nothing4. People won’t victimize others if there is a good chance that it will end your life. The “Hey lady, give me your purse” phenomena may come to and end when it results in the dude’s brains being scattered behind him.
I can't for a moment believe that's true. For that to even have a chance of working you first of all have to get to a point where a high proportion of the population is armed with lethal force, at any given time - there would be a long lag between legal sanction and meeting this requirement. Second, the distribution of lethal arms among the population must be perceived to be even across pretty much all demographic groups. Unless at least these two conditions are met, the people 'starting trouble' will continue to do so. The only difference will be that they'll make their decisions about who to start the trouble with in a way which minimises the likelihood of the victim having immediate access to lethal force. I consider the possibility of meeting the second criteria above to be near enough to impossible.
Given that the baddies will likely begin choosing their victims from groups of people who are perceived as less likely to have immediate access to lethal force (much as they do already), we end up pretty much at the status quo, only with more guns floating5 around because gaining access to firearms is easier6. I'd also venture to suggest that the groups of people that are most vulnerable now are likely to remain much the same, as they're probably less likely to embrace gun ownership as a means of personal protection.
High levels of gun ownership, especially for the purpose of personal protection, is a bad thing. It breads a gun culture, which is an even worse thing.
- I agree, by the way, the use of pepper spray for personal protection probably should be legal. [↩]
- Although, that would be a good reason, assuming the likelihood does increase. [↩]
- If you think I haven't looked hard enough please point me to some. [↩]
- It doesn't really fit the flow of my post, but I disagree with this too. Given the additional advantage of surprise (not that hard to get), a size and strength advantage like this will mean exactly the same thing as it does now. Unless of course, the victim is carrying the gun around, in hand, cocked, loaded, safety off and ready to blast! [↩]
- And all the potential for problems which that entails. [↩]
- The argument could be made that because of higher levels of firearms ownership, the pool of vulnerable groups is smaller so there is some overall gain. Even if the pool of vulnerable groups does get smaller, that's no guarantee that there is any gain at all. It's entirely possible that it just makes the groups that remain vulnerable more likely to be targeted. [↩]