"More Guns, Less Crime" May Be
True, But Misses the Point



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By Kurt Hofmann, August 27th, 2014
JPFO writer contributor, © 2014.

The Washington Times notes that crime in Chicago has dipped dramatically, while at the same time, scores of thousands of Illinoisans obtain permits to carry defensive firearms:

Since Illinois started granting concealed carry permits this year, the number of robberies that have led to arrests in Chicago has declined 20 percent from last year, according to police department statistics. Reports of burglary and motor vehicle theft are down 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In the first quarter, the city's homicide rate was at a 56-year low.

Some see a connection to be drawn here:

"It isn't any coincidence crime rates started to go down when concealed carry was permitted. Just the idea that the criminals don't know who's armed and who isn't has a deterrence effect," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "The police department hasn't changed a single tactic — they haven't announced a shift in policy or of course — and yet you have these incredible numbers."

Image Oleg Volk

Well . . . perhaps. Any causal relationship between Illinois finally dropping its mandate for defenselessness, and Chicago's violent crime rate finally dropping, would seem difficult to prove, though.

And, I argue, completely unnecessary to prove. John Lott, Gary Kleck, and others are noted researchers, vastly more knowledgeable about statistical analysis than I will ever be, and have sold a great many books trying to provide that proof, or at least compelling evidence--and frankly, I don't really care.

I don't care because fundamental human rights--and the right to self-defense must be seen by any rational, ethical person as chief among those--cannot legitimately be held hostage to a requirement for a favorable statistical outcome.

Jeff Snyder made this point brilliantly in his superb A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control (now sadly out of print):

For the sake of discussion, let's assume that keeping and bearing arms suitable for self-defense is a bona fide individual right. If so, the fact that 100,000 people a year murder others with firearms, while one man alone uses a firearm to save a life, provides no basis for curbing the individual liberty to own and bear arms. Each individual must, because of his inherent, autonomous ethical freedom, be respected as an end in himself; no prior restraint may be imposed upon his right to own and bear firearms.

Actually we can go further. Under an individual right view, the fact that 100,000 people a year murder innocents with firearms, and no one uses a firearm to protect himself or others provides no basis for a prior restraint. Individuals must still be possessed of a right to own firearms because their ethical freedom contains the potentiality of using firearms for good. That is, people can use this tool for good, if they turn to it with a good will.

Snyder also makes the point that if it could be statistically proven that restrictive "gun control" saved more lives than would be lost to mandated defenselessness (even if the number were far more), such a utilitarian approach to achieving "the greatest good for the greatest number" would be monstrously immoral:

Take, for example, gun prohibition as a means of eliminating gun crime, on the assumption that the evidence is clear that if gun crime can be eliminated more people's lives will be saved than lost (the avowed greatest good assumed to be the preservation of the greatest number of lives). All are deprived of arms to eliminate the harm caused by those who would otherwise abuse their freedoms by using firearms to commit crimes. Let's assume this law works, that is, in fact achieves its goal of eliminating all gun crime, and thereby maximizes lives saved.

It is evident from this example, first, that the individual's liberty to own firearms depends on whether sufficient others are using them to produce desired results. In this case, we have posited that they have not, that is, that more people are dying from gun crimes than are being saved by persons defending themselves with guns. The utilitarian "solution" to maximize aggregate welfare is thus to deprive all individuals of the liberty to own firearms. The scope of an individual's freedom, then, is not a function of the respect due him as an independent agent having free will, and does not depend on his own conduct, but is instead a function of how his fellow citizens behave and the results they achieve.

Second, the individual's private good is not merely subordinate to the realization of the aggregate greatest good, but is freely sacrificed to securing that greatest good. The obverse of the fact that more lives are saved by gun prohibition is that some, having been deprived of an effective tool of self-defense, will of necessity lose their lives, so that others, admittedly [for the sake of argument] more numerous, will live. In short, some are sacrificed freely, so that others, comprising a greater number, may live.

Utilitarianism sanctions human sacrifice, both great and small, as long as it is for "the greatest good for the greatest number." That is, utilitarianism justifies using some merely as a means to fulfillment of others' ends, so long as those who are to be sacrificed are not too numerous. The individual thus has no right to life; that life has become so much raw material to be disposed of in pursuit of the aggregate greatest good.

To argue that our rights are justified by numbers is to tacitly surrender those rights if the numbers ever go bad. As Herschel Smith says, "It's insidious and even dangerous to argue gun rights as a part of crime prevention based on statistics because it presupposes what the social planners do, i.e., that I'm part of the collective."

Gun ban zealots try to bolster their arguments with statistics all the time--to the point of coming up with bogus stats, such as "A gun in the home is 43 times as likely to kill a family member as to be used in self-defense," or that, "Forty percent of gun sales proceed without a background check." They can afford to use numbers (even if they have to make them up), because their agenda is not troubled by collective punishment for individual crimes, or sacrificing the innocent "for the greater good."

We, on the other hand, must remain better than that.

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A former paratrooper, Kurt Hofmann was paralyzed in a car accident in 2002. The helplessness inherent to confinement to a wheelchair prompted him to explore armed self-defense, only to discover that Illinois denies that right, inspiring him to become active in gun rights advocacy. He also writes the St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner column. Kurt Hofmann Archive.

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