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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Clinging to Guns

I plan to purchase a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver with a 6 inch barrel. It's the Dirty Harry gun. Why? Something of romantic overkill, sure, but also self-defense, the much maligned concept that nonetheless persists with so many as practical and, well, human.

Classic scenario, if not over-used: when I'm travelling, my wife is in the home alone with our two children (8, 7 years old). We have a firearm, currently, in the home, which I taught her to use in the unthinkable situation where someone attempted to assault them. Now, living in the country, I can estimate (without claiming to precision), that it would take the local police force several minutes, and likely, say, upwards of ten minutes to respond to a 911 call. In that time, as I'm sure we can all imagine, so many horrors could be visited upon my wife and kids, that I'd rather not continue.

It works like this: people who live in major cities, see major city problems with guns. For those of us who live in the suburbs (read: in the country), the thought of having responsible access to deadly force is not problematic but comforting. I'm sure my neighbors have firearms as well. Bully for them.

It's difficult to see how the State could argue our comfort away; on what grounds? I, for instance, am not a felon, have handled firearms since a kid, taken gun safety courses, hunted my entire life, and on and on (same too, mostly, with my spouse). And so, the argument to deny me a firearm is...?

As to inner-city gun violence, I'm well aware. My point isn't a blanket argument about guns but rather a question of who should get them. I'm inclined to make the law strict in this regard. Apply for your firearm. If you qualify, wait a period, receive it. I'm not opposed to this.

Shifting gears, on a purely theoretical level, it's incomprehensible to me that somehow our relationship with the State should be such that the State controls, exclusively, the means of deadly force, and denies categorically the same to its citizens. Again, if organized law enforcement can't be everywhere, all the time, why shouldn't well-meaning citizens provide for their own protection? We are not, after all, children. The law provides (indeed, it's in the Constitution, not by accident) for citizens to have access to firearms. We're not children.

Finally (to munge many points together here), "self defense" for me includes also backpacking trips in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, where the chances of encountering a brown or black bear are non-trivial. Self-defense. I'm not interested in testing theories about playing dead; I'd rather my kids see me return home. Hence, a large-caliber handgun.


mijopo said...

In terms of practical utility, I won't claim that my experience is typical but I've never been in a situation in which I think the outcome would have improved had I had access to a gun. I have been in situations in which I can easily imagine the outcome could have been much worse had I had access to a gun, or were there guns in the vicinity, not to mention all the counterfactual situations, the likelihood of which I don't really know, that did not occur because I don't have a gun in my house.

mijopo said...

Let me alter the claim I made in the previous comment. I have been in situations in which the outcome might possibly have improved had I had a gun. But the small improvement in outcome that would have been realized versus the size of the risks required in achieving that small improvement, make it a complete no-brainer from a decision theory perspective.

Erik said...

Sorry, my bad, I didn't finish the post, which my help explain my meaning. I'll try to finish it tonight.

mijopo said...

"It's difficult to see how the State could argue our comfort away; on what grounds? "

How about this one: the potential harm to society far too heavily outweighs the benefits of failing to enact a restriction or ban, i.e., the same kind of principle on which speed limits and asbestos bans are based on.

Erik said...

Several points:

1) Most people who have this (endless) debate typically give at least lip service to the second amendment, all that annoying language about "keeping and bearing arms" as protection against tyranny (extended to include self-defense by the Supreme Court in Heller).

2) I get the utility argument (but see 1); as a blanket statement about these types of arguments, they tend to work really well for outcomes the utility maximizer already wants. It depends on whos doing the maximizing. I might as easily argue that the speed limit should go back to 55, or that everyone would be better off if forced to ride bikes to work, or that the benefits to drug legalization far outweigh the risks of more addiction, or that if everyone went to calorie restricted diets the benefits would far outweigh the loss in automony and on and on.

3) Even granting that we forget about 1), have some super objective utility maximizer to shore up any problems with 2), there's a regional problem here, too. Namely, if you live in D.C., that's one thing. If you live in Idaho on a farm, that's another. I don't think the latter folks would have their utility maximized by taking away their shotguns.

mijopo said...

I didn't know that by 'State' you meant the 'United States of America', I thought we were discussing more abstractly. To be sure, the Second Amendment makes it difficult to rely on that argument alone. (So much the worse for the Second Amendment, IMO, but, whatever.)

I'm not making the argument that you should give up your guns, or that those living in Idaho should or must. I'm just saying that I don't have much difficulty envisioning what kind of argument the government could make for banning them, i.e., I don't think the facts you mentioned suffice to make a ban inconceivable or show how gun ownership differs in kind from other sorts of things for which bans/constraints are considered.

Erik said...

"(So much the worse for the Second Amendment, IMO, but, whatever.)"

You're trampling on the Constitution! I thought that's what Dick Cheney and Rumsy did?!

Ah shucks, I'm just messing around now.

I do get your point, and yes, it was reasonable to suppose that we were originally talking about an abstract notion of State.

eneve said...

i tried leaving a comment from my G1, but looks like it didn't stick so here i go again!

i say go for it and get the gun. when one of my close friends not to long ago purchased a gun i must admit i was skeptical at first. hell there were many of our mutual friends who literally refused to hang out with him after he bought it because 'guns are evil'. however, after i spent some time learning about guns and shooting them i found myself becoming more comfortable with them and less afraid. people are afraid of what they don't understand and that is human nature. guns are not evil although some of the people who use them might be.

just remember that if you are getting the 'dirty harry' gun. that thing is more of a hand cannon than a gun. very powerful , very loud, and highly inaccurate (ALOT of kick). the only thing that i have shot that is louder and less accurate is a 12 gage shotgun which compensates for its inaccuracy by generating a 'spread' or projectiles.

if you are looking for something for home defense. i would personally go for a 40 cal or 9mm so you know you can actually hit what you are trying to shoot.

also remember that if you shoot something with the 'dirty harry' gun, whatever you shoot will become a fine red mist. basically shoot to kill. where if you shoot something with a 40 cal or 9mm it is very likely they will survive (depending on where it is shot).

Erik said...

eneve, thanks for your comments. I did purchase the Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum double action revolver today. Yes! It is a hefty recoil, but also I plan to take it as a service revolver in woods up North, where bears are an issue. It ought to be enough to handle anything that nature throws may way.

As for self-defence, I have a 12 guage with a longish barrel (used to hunt upland birds with it), and 3" 00 Buck. Good enough for me. I'd likely not use the "Dirty Harry" unless necessary, since the bullets could penetrate the walls and end up hurting innocent people (not so the shotgun). But for bears, I think I'm good.

Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that Texas has no "cooling off" provision; you can just go, present a drivers license with correct address, get a phone check with the FBI, and walk out with your weapon.

In my homestate of Washington, you can't take home the gun the same day that you purchase it.

Texans know how to do it!