Weber and Legitimate Violence

by Kieran Healy on April 20, 2007

Eugene Volokh and a correspondent discuss Max Weber’s views on the state and legitimate violence, and between them make a common error:

I was corresponding with a friend of mine—a very smart fellow, and a lawyer and a journalist—about concealed carry for university professors. He disagreed with my view, and as best I can tell in general was skeptical about laws allowing concealed carry in public. His argument, though, struck me as particularly noteworthy, especially since I’ve heard it in gun control debates before: “Forgive me, but I’m old-fashioned. I like the idea of the state having a monopoly on the use of force.”

I want to claim that this echo of Weber (who said “Today … we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”) is utterly inapt in gun control debates, at least such debates in a Western country.

He goes on to give a string of alleged counterexamples: “Every jurisdiction in America has always recognized individuals’ right to use not just force but deadly force in defending life … Use of deadly force for self-defense has always been allowed in public places as well as in private places … many non-state organizations even maintain private armed staff—armed security guards …” The examples actually make Weber’s point. Weber said that a distinguishing feature of the modern state is that it “claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory … the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”

It’s the legitimacy point that’s key. The state claims the right to regulate who can and cannot do things like own weapons, shoot people, run some kind of armed organization or what have you, and under what circumstances and with what restrictions. Which is precisely what Volokh’s examples show: jurisdictions allow, laws recognize, and so on. It is this legitimacy claim that is behind the state’s labeling certain groups as terrorists, for example. Volokh goes on to say that his “point is simply that this Weber quote is of no relevance to the question of private gun possession for self-defense.” Weber won’t resolve any detailed policy questions in that department, though his definition does make it clear that in a modern state the private ownership of weapons is something the state will certainly claim the right to regulate.

Update: To clarify, as I wrote this in a bit of a rush: (1) Volokh’s counterexamples rebut effectively the idea that the state has a monopoly on the commision of violent acts (especially armed violence). (2) This is not what Weber meant by “monopoly on legitimate force.” (3) It seems to be what his correspondent thought Weber meant, however, and so (4) Between them they end up propagating a common error about Weber, though it’s not Volokh’s intent to discuss Weber’s ideas specifically. I’ve changed the title of the post to forestall misinterpretation.

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The Explainsies § Unqualified Offerings
04.21.07 at 3:13 am

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1

bi 04.20.07 at 7:02 pm

Or to put it another way, the question is whether the “right to self-defence” is considered to flow from the state to the people, or whether it is considered to be naturally vested in the people ex nihilo, independent of the state. The fact that a state “recognizes” a right doesn’t necessarily mean that the right flows from the state (though it can mean that).

2

Shelby 04.20.07 at 7:02 pm

In fairness, Volokh goes on to note that Weber’s statement “might mean that the private use of force is allowed only to the extent it’s permitted by the state”. He may not be certain of the exact contextual meaning of the statement, but he does point out as a possibility the meaning that you ascribe.

3

bi 04.20.07 at 7:04 pm

…oops, I was just about to say that. So Volokh’s “counterexamples” don’t really disprove Weber’s point, but they don’t prove it either.

4

Shelby 04.20.07 at 7:11 pm

FWIW, by “you” I meant Kieran; bi’s first comment hadn’t appeared when I clicked “post”.

5

SamChevre 04.20.07 at 7:11 pm

Right. But Eugene Volokh isn’t arguing with Weber; he’s arguing that a state “having the monopoly on the use of force” says nothing that is useful in discussing how states should regulate private uses of force; it says thaey regulate it, but not what regulations are desirable.

6

P O'Neill 04.20.07 at 7:16 pm

Following Kieran’s link, I see that it’s a day of quotes from the greats over there. Apparently Napoleon and Churchill believe that Harry Reid was wrong to say that the Iraq war is lost, and apparently the enemy draws support from the idea that that Harry Reid says that the war is lost, as opposed to actual conditions on the ground (e.g. the 4 years and counting length of war) that might make them think so.

7

Functional 04.20.07 at 7:46 pm

Volokh doesn’t make a mistake here. He never suggests an erroneous interpretation of Weber.

To the contrary, Volokh said, “So whatever the meaning of Weber’s statement might be, it does not mean only a state may physical force, or even lethal force — nor would such a policy be sound or morally acceptable (since it would require a prohibition on all private self-defense using lethal force of any sort).”

That’s exactly right, and it’s why Volokh thought it necessary to correct his friend and others who have the same misimpression of Weber, i.e., the people who think that, according to Weber, the state should monopolize not just the legitimation but the use of force, such that self-defense of any kind is illegal.

Your confusion seems to arise because you think Volokh was listing “counterexamples” to what Weber actually meant, rather than “counterexamples” to misinterpretations of Weber.

8

Cranky Observer 04.20.07 at 7:52 pm

> I was corresponding with a friend of
> mine—a very smart fellow,

When listening/reading to a US conservative, you can be pretty sure that the phase “is a smart fellow” will be followed by a mendacious argument.

Cranky

9

Clyde Mnestra 04.20.07 at 7:57 pm

This is a sloppy post, if it intends to correct Volokh. In addition to overlooking Volokh’s acknowledgment of the broader sense in which states may genuinely monopolize force, in Weber’s sense, what you describe as “a string of alleged counterexamples” — as you render it, to Weber’s point — is explicitly intended to counter his correspondent’s factual assertion that it is more “old fashioned” to maintain the correspondent’s stricter version of the “monopoly” (that is, keeping weapons out of everyone else’s hands). Volokh is using the examples to show that no US jurisdiction has maintained a monopoly in the stricter sense. And he cites Weber to suggest how the confusion might arise.

I’m all in favor of keeping things honest over there. But I have the sense from this and a few of the comments that it is considered above Volokh’s station to cite the greats, and that he must be put in his place.

10

abb1 04.20.07 at 8:23 pm

Why, I agree: we need professors to pack heat, definitely. At a minimum those 101 Most Dangerous named by Mr. Horowitz – really, how dangerous are they without a .44 magnum? Yeah, I wanna hear Berube go: well, do you feel lucky, punk?

11

Maurice Meilleur 04.20.07 at 8:32 pm

@9: Wrong, but thanks for playing. Volokh clearly wants to claim that the state should not have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. He misunderstands Weber to have opposed this position by misreading what Weber said about the state as an ideal type. He might have saved himself from this error if he had understood that (a) Weber was not making a normative claim, but a descriptive claim, and (b) Weber’s descriptive claim, reading ahead further than Volokh cites him, already took into account the cases Volokh lists as counterexamples. Thus Weber’s argument is–as Kieran says–not really relevant to Volokh’s, and all Kieran did was point that out.

He didn’t pour scorn on Volokh for daring to cite Weber; he showed simply that Volokh got him wrong and that he probably wasn’t much worth citing in this context in the first place. I can imagine Volokh appreciating the correction and moving on with his own claims. Why can’t you?

12

tom hurka 04.20.07 at 8:48 pm

Bi has the issue right in #1: the state may ‘recognize’ individuals’ right of self-defence because it acknowledges that the individuals’ have that right independently of the state’s recognizing or granting it. Consider: if the government tried to legally forbid all acts of self-defence, would its doing so be legitimate? Or does it perhaps recognize, e.g. in a written bill of rights, that there are certain restrictions on the use of force that it would be illegitimate for it to attempt? If it does — as I certainly think in most liberal states it does — then it’s not true that the state claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force even in the extended sense Kieran has in mind.

13

Clyde Mnestra 04.20.07 at 9:03 pm

I appreciate the snideness of your response, which is certainly tonally clearer than that of the original post.

“Volokh clearly wants to claim that the state should not have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”

You are probably right that this is his ultimate position, though I am not sure how that is relevant to the mistake in the post that I noted.

“He misunderstands Weber to have opposed this position by misreading what Weber said about the state as an ideal type.”

Volokh does, as you say, treat this as a normative question — but at the point in question, discussing counterexamples, he is plainly right in responding to his correspondent in those terms, since the correspondent’s point was a normative assertion. As to whether Volokh thinks Weber actually opposed Volokh’s own position, which is the payoff, I thought it was plain as day that Volokh thought nothing of the kind.

Now, you are right that Volokh inflated Weber to make a normative point, in a way that makes reconciling the positions harder than it should have been. And you are right it may have been unnecessary to cite him in the first place. But I thought the thrust was to say that the correspondent was echoing Weber and suggesting a false opposition between views. Read fairly, I think you and Kieran would agree that Volokh’s reading is sounder than what his correspondent may have intended.

Incidentally, thanks for the suggestion that I move on. It always seems that suggestion works for the prior commenter, but never one’s self.

14

Maurice Meilleur 04.20.07 at 9:17 pm

@13: ‘Move on’ in the sense that, if you have an argument to make about states and violence and gun control, make it. Not ‘move on’ in the sense of ‘go away’. Even if I wished that another commenter would stop posting–which I don’t–this isn’t my weblog, so why would I try to play hall monitor? Crikey.

15

Clyde Mnestra 04.20.07 at 10:02 pm

I’m a little cranky (not crikey) myself today, sorry. I too meant “move on” in that sense — everyone wants the last word, including by progressing to a different topic or claim, whereas I only wanted to question whether the original distraction from the merits of Volokh’s argument (which you have to admit wasn’t my doing) was necessary. And I was cheesed at “wrong, but thanks for playing.”

But I see the post is sort of changed now — Volokh is no longer contra Weber, but helping to propagate an error by responding to it — and I think this means that all of have to move on, lest in responding to one another we defeat our own ends!

16

Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.20.07 at 10:56 pm

A Hobbesian approach to this topic would embrace or reconcile both Weber and Volokh. [I’m not Hobbesian, nor do I very often agree with Volokh.]

17

Richard 04.21.07 at 1:54 am

a Western country

This presumably means west of the UK, where the right to violent self-defence is still very much an open question.

18

bi 04.21.07 at 9:11 am

“I’m all in favor of keeping things honest over there. But I have the sense from this and a few of the comments that it is considered above Volokh’s station to cite the greats, and that he must be put in his place.”

Ooh, that’s _so_ _very_ honest of you. Well, I honestly have no objection, when people think Occam’s Razor means “if a large number of rightwing Americans think something, then it has to be true”; or that Napoleon would think that Iraqi insurgents get their encouragement from the words of treasonous Democrats rather than “as opposed to actual conditions on the ground”. Really, in all honest honesty, I honestly have no objection to the greats being cited in such honest ways.

19

Hidari 04.21.07 at 11:00 am

‘a Western country

This presumably means west of the UK, where the right to violent self-defence is still very much an open question.’

Yes: my understanding is that the right to use LETHAL force is highly circumscribed in the UK. It’s highly debatable if, for example, someone breaks into your house merely to steal stuff, whether you are allowed to shoot them dead (even with a legal weapon, and there aren’t too many of them left about). (Note to British lawyers, I am well aware that I could be wrong about this).

But in any case it really dodges the question because in a real world situation, whether or not you have the ‘right’ to do so, if someone burst into a church or university or school and started shooting, since private handguns are effectively banned, very very very few people would have the nerve to try to disarm that gunman, using ‘lethal force’ or not.

Incidentally, what’s all this crap about ‘in a Western country’? Surely if it is objectively true that more guns means less crime, this is a law that should hold anywhere, at any time? And so, for example, contemporary Iraq should be one of the most crime-free places on Earth? Or is this one of these mysterious psychological laws that is objective and true in a Platonic sense, but which only applies to middle class white males in ‘Western’ countries?

20

John Emerson 04.21.07 at 1:01 pm

The American infatuation with armed self-defence is an interesting historical phenomenon. If you follow the right at all (I try not to) you run into lots of people who seem to have no idea at all what life is like in stateless societies, or in weak-state societies where local order is maintained primarily by local volunteer militias of various kinds.

Their model of these societies seems to be taken from cowboy movies, with the brave hero (Instapundit) walking into town with his sixshooter strapped to his hip and frightening away whichever bad guys he doesn’t kill.

In fact, societies of this type tend either to break down into constant low level violence punctuated with more serious flarups, or else they end up being dominated by ruthless local warlords and clan leaders who function as proto-states. There is little individualism in these societies; everyone must choose a band, because isolated individuals will be picked off by organized groups.

Black-Michaud’s “Cohesive Force” describes this situation in general terms and gives lots of examples from the Balkans, the Eurasian steppe, the Atlas Mountains, etc., and more could be found in pre-state Iceland, pre-modern China, etc. (The traditional Chinese state enforced local order only in the most extreme cases of banditry and rebellion).

The American frontier starting from Kentucky was a sort of non-state society, and men only owned as much land as they could defend. This matches early stages of European feudal society, when land ownership, political sovereignty, and military defense merged into one role for one man. (John France, “Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades”).

21

bi 04.21.07 at 1:23 pm

It looks like we’ve drifted away from the original question on law theory into another general discussion on gun control. Relax people…

22

Tracy W 04.21.07 at 2:03 pm

The examples actually make Weber’s point. Weber said that a distinguishing feature of the modern state is that it “claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory … the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”

Assuming this is what Weber actually said, how is this in any sense an argument against university professors carrying concealed weapons?

Presumably, even if you believe the state has the sole source of the right to use violence, it could ascribe that right to university professors. Every state I can think of ascribes the right to use violence to people enlisted in the police and in the armed forces. Why not extend the list to university professors if it’s a good idea policywise? The list has been extended in the past, for example with the creation of an airforce the right to use violence has been extended to a new branch of the army.

There may be excellent reasons why a right to concealed carry shouldn’t be given to university professors. I am not arguing that university professors should have the right to concealed carry. All I’m arguing is that I can’t see how states having a monopoly on the use of force has any bearing on whether university professors should carry guns.

Again, I’m not arguing in favour of university professors having concealed carry permits. All I’m arguing is that theories of states having a monopoly on force is irrelevant to the question.

23

Brett Bellmore 04.21.07 at 3:43 pm

What relevance would Webber’s definition of the state have in a state which was consciously founded on a contrary basis? That the US government has any sort of monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is explicitly repudiated in the Declaration of Independence.

Webber’s explication of the old order has no relevance for the our new order for the ages.

24

John Emerson 04.21.07 at 5:10 pm

I think Bret has a point, in that the Second Amendment (and the frontier experience, mythical and historical) are out of synch with Weber. (On the other hand, Weber was not backward-looking by German standards.)

At this point I’m much less enthusiastic about the American experiment with armed citizenship than Brett is, however.

25

abb1 04.21.07 at 5:28 pm

Nah, the second amendment can be interpreted in a much more reasonable way and the ‘frontier experience’ myths are entertainment, they don’t mean anything; you’re making one of those ‘cultural destiny’ arguments. Gun manufacturers are the culprits here, that’s all there is to it.

26

Brett Bellmore 04.21.07 at 5:35 pm

“Nah, the second amendment can be interpreted in a much more reasonable way…”

I think we disagree about what’s reasonable, but I was speaking of the Declaration of Independence, not the 2nd amendment. Which makes clear that soverignty originates in the people, who only delegate it to the state, reserving at all times the right to recind that delegation. Violently, if necessary. Which is pretty much at odds with Webber’s definition.

Webber describes the theoretical basis behind a type of state our founders deliberately rejected.

27

abb1 04.21.07 at 5:54 pm

The Declaration of Independence is a myth too. As soon as the guns become bad for business they’ll be banned.

28

Brett Bellmore 04.21.07 at 6:04 pm

Abb1, I’m aware that there’s this conviction on the part of anti-gunners that the whole opposition to gun control is orchestrated by the immense firearms industry. It’s starkly delusional.

29

John Emerson 04.21.07 at 6:05 pm

Abb1, it’s not the gun manufacturers. The love of guns is pretty deeply rooted in a lot of people’s psyches. Gun manufacturers aren’t heavy hitters when it comes to lobbying and campaign money.

30

Kieran Healy 04.21.07 at 6:26 pm

Assuming this is what Weber actually said, how is this in any sense an argument against university professors carrying concealed weapons?

It’s not. That’s why I said, “Weber won’t resolve any detailed policy questions in that department.”

31

abb1 04.21.07 at 7:10 pm

John, according to this, 47% want stricter gun laws and only 11% less strict. Only 32% own guns. This is despite relentless propaganda. And of course they have the lobbying arm, it’s called the NRA; one of the most efficient organizations, in the same league as AARP and AIPAC.

32

Brett Bellmore 04.21.07 at 7:31 pm

And how does one of the smaller industries in the country, (Estimated at only $1.2 billion in sales as of 2000, $200 million in profits.) manage to run one of the biggest lobbying organizations in the country?

You just don’t want to believe that there’s grass roots opposition to gun control in this country, no matter how much evidence confronts you. So you pretend the NRA is an astroturf organization.

33

clyde mnestra 04.21.07 at 7:40 pm

Kieran,

Which is also why Volokh said, in his original post, “I stress again that I’m not trying to disagree with Weber here; I’m not a Weber expert, but it may well be that his position may be sound for some of the reasons I described, reasons that keep the position from excluding forcible self-defense. My point is simply that this Weber quote is of no relevance to the question of private gun possession for self-defense.” I hear strains of kumbaya, even from atop my dead horse.

bi,

Not sure what your point in #19, so can’t respond, and anyway doing so would probably exacerbate the drift you condemn in #22. Hey, wait a minute . . .

34

John Emerson 04.21.07 at 9:41 pm

I rarely agree with Brett, but the NRA and the even more fanatical spinoff groups are legit popular organizations. As a bullet vote, their vote is multiplied, and it’s multiplied again by the small-state advantage in the Senate. 11% is a big bullet vote, and among the 42% who are satisfied with the present situation are a lot of gun rights people who could be mobilized in the right circumstances. I don’t think that the gun manufacturers are a big factor at all.

To me the big story is the loyalty of the mainstream gun owners (mostly hunters who own long guns) to the fanatic militia types. If the mainstream gun owners could be split from the others, the power of the lobbies could be reduced or eliminated. (Partly, of course, it’s a regional and ethnic thing, of rural whites and perhaps a few other groups.)

I question your 11% figure. 31% of American households have guns.

Gun ownership by state

35

C. L. Ball 04.21.07 at 10:41 pm

Whether Volokh misunderstood Weber or not, the error Kieran identifies is quite common. The standard undergrad response to the Weber def. is to say: “So the US doesn’t have a state because of the right to self-defense?”

36

Brett Bellmore 04.21.07 at 11:47 pm

“If the mainstream gun owners could be split from the others,”

First, it’s far from obvious that it’s really sensible for hunters to fail to defend the “fanatic militia types”; “First they came for…” and all that, after all. It really is pretty stupid to let the enemy gobble up your ‘neighbors’, and only fight when he’s on YOUR border.

But, secondly, the reason it’s so easy to rally hunters to the side of the “fanatic militia types”, is that anti-gunners in Congress keep trying to pass legislation purportedly aimed at the latter, but drafted so that it would impact the former. For instance, one of the amendments Kerry ran back to Washington to vote for on Super Tuesday would have banned essentially all hunting ammo. Maybe, maybe, Kennedy was just to ignorant to understand what he’d put his name to.

But why would hunters want to take that risk?

37

roy belmont 04.22.07 at 5:46 am

In the days of the American frontier that John Emerson cites above most men could feed themselves off the land, if they had to, and they often did. Most women on the frontier could grow and harvest kitchen gardens that would provide most of the food for their families in season, and can and preserve more for winter and other times of scarcity as well. It’s a tenuous way to live, dependent on weather and the vagaries of natural cycles – much more risky than depending on grocery chains to feed your family is. And of course sustenance hunting is virtually an anachronism now, virtually no one in the lower 48 states depends on hunting to survive.
The tacit given is this will be the pertinent condition from here on out. That seems unlikely given the precarious state of things, both politically and environmentally. There’s also the inescapable fact that weapons that kill for the table will kill equally as efficiently to defend territory, or to take it from its defenders. The same “state” that keeps threatening to disarm its citizens is virtually indistinguishable from the corporate entities that have amalgamated food production and distribution, and seduced and essentially ridiculed the citizenry away from those “homespun” activities.
People who can’t grow their own food or hunt their own meat aren’t capable of surviving outside the protection of the corporate state, for either food or self-defense. Or at least don’t see themselves as capable. And they won’t see much value in those abilities, either, unless they’re exceptionally honest.
Any argument about gun ownership that has as its premise a continuation of things as they are, just without guns, is really an argument for the continuation of much more than the current status quo – it’s a vote for the continuation of the direction and momentum of the status quo. That may be more the real argument.

38

bi 04.22.07 at 9:08 am

“‘First they came for…’ and all that, after all.”

Do I see Brett Bellmore trying to pull a crypto-Godwin? And anyway, what exactly is so oppressive about not being able to hunt deer?

The bull just piles up higher and higher, doesn’t it?

39

abb1 04.22.07 at 10:04 am

The NRA does have a lot of members, but I question the assertion that it’s a popular organization.

In Massachusetts, for example (I think it’s correct), if you apply for a permit, you are required by law to become an NRA member.

And so, when people, perhaps a large majority, join not because they agree with and want to support the policies but because they have to, then it becomes similar to the Soviet Communist Party in the 1980s.

So, I don’t think this is about the membership; it’s about having a lot of money and intense focus on a narrow goal. This goal is only beneficial to the firearm manufacturers and distributors, so I can’t find and other rational explanation.

Sure, 11% of anti-gun-laws population is substantial, but it’s hardly a justification for the dramatic “American infatuation with armed self-defense” hyperbole. I suspect if the government/media started serious anti-gun propaganda, this number would quickly shrink to 4-5%.

According to this, “The US firearms industry includes about 200 companies with combined annual revenue of $2 billion.” It’s not too small.

40

Brett Bellmore 04.22.07 at 12:36 pm

“In Massachusetts, for example (I think it’s correct), if you apply for a permit, you are required by law to become an NRA member.”

Nope. I know that in some states the NRA has paid to have membership application forms included with state firearms paperwork, as a form of advertising. But joining isn’t manditory.

“This goal is only beneficial to the firearm manufacturers and distributors, so I can’t find and other rational explanation.”

You realize, I hope, that in order for people to voluntarilly join an organization, it isn’t necessary for YOU to think the the organization’s goals are beneficial to them? It’s only necessary for THEM to think those goals are benefical to them.

41

Brett Bellmore 04.22.07 at 12:40 pm

“Sure, 11% of anti-gun-laws population is substantial, but it’s hardly a justification for the dramatic “American infatuation with armed self-defense” hyperbole.”

Keep in mind that the NRA doesn’t just (In fact, hardly ever. :( ) lobby to repeal gun laws. Mostly it’s fighting to keep new ones from being enacted. Thus bringing in that middle group, which together with us activists, comprise a majority.

“I suspect if the government/media started serious anti-gun propaganda, this number would quickly shrink to 4-5%.”

IF? LOL!

42

abb1 04.22.07 at 2:50 pm

I’m not sure, but I think it goes something like this: to get a permit you need to take a certified training class -> all (or most anyway) certified training programs belong to the NRA -> you either have to become NRA member or you’ll get a significant discount if you become a member.

The existing laws have loopholes inserted by the gun lobby, like the gun show loophole. Gun owners don’t benefit from these loopholes. But mostly I mean registration. I don’t see how it’s against the interests of a rational gun owner.

No, I’m talking about serious anti-gun propaganda, serious paranoid scare-mongering that we don’t really hear from the media and politicians, the exact opposite of what we do hear from the NRA. Something like: your next-door neighbor may be stockpiling dozens of military-style weapons in his house – right now, as we speak! Did you recently have a heated argument with your neighbor? How do you know he isn’t in his attic now watching you thru the rifle scope! The statistics show! Your children are in a crosshear! You have the right to know!
This kind of stuff. Don’t tell me it wouldn’t have an effect.

43

bi 04.22.07 at 5:36 pm

Again, what’s so oppressive about not being able to hunt deer?

44

Neocon's Neocon 04.22.07 at 10:32 pm

I totally agree.

George Bush and his appointees (and the appointees of his appointees, and so on) should be the only people allowed to carry weapons.

They are, after all, the only ones who can be trusted.

45

Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 1:02 am

“like the gun show loophole.”

Ok, now you’ve demonstrated that you’ve drank the anti-gun koolaid. There is no such thing as a gun show loophole. It’s a complete fabrication, the laws governing firearms sales at gun shows are exactly the same as everyplace else.

“Gun owners don’t benefit from these loopholes.”

Who the hell do you think buys and sells guns at gun shows? Little green martians?

“But mostly I mean registration. I don’t see how it’s against the interests of a rational gun owner.”

You want a list of jurisdictions in the US which have registered firearms, and subsequently used the registration records as a guide when confiscating firearms?

Gun registration has no utility at all for gun owners, and damned little for anybody else, while posing a vast potential for abuse, a potential which has frequently been realized. A gun owner would have to be irrational to favor it.

46

abb1 04.23.07 at 6:57 am

OK, I’m not an expert in the gun law loopholes, so maybe I did drink the koolaid. Though I’m sure there’s something there.

But the anti-registration thing I just don’t understand at all. Yes, I do want the list and the circumstances. Yes, obviously there is utility. If you’re buying dozens of guns, I want the authorities to know, whether I’m myself a gun owner or not. When crime is committed, I want the gun to be traced to the owner. Is this really so complicated?

47

bi 04.23.07 at 7:04 am

What in the blazes again is so oppressive about not being able to hunt deer, that Brett Bellmore must discuss such a thing with a crypto-Godwin?

48

Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 11:15 am

“When crime is committed, I want the gun to be traced to the owner. Is this really so complicated? When crime is committed, I want the gun to be traced to the owner. Is this really so complicated?”

No, just somewhat gulible about the actual utility of registration, and remarkably indifferent to it’s abusive potential.

There’s a national movement to ban guns. It’s had local successes, some of which were conspicuously facilitated by gun registration, after promises the lists wouldn’t be used to that end. Despite the fact that the Democratic party is laying low on the subject until after the 2008 election, there’s every reason to believe that national success is only one or two elections gone wrong away. (Such as the fact that Democrats in Congress are adamant that DC residents not be restored the right to keep and bear arms, a no brainer if they’d actually seen the light on this subject.)

And under THESE circumstances, you persist in claiming that it’s irrational for gun owners to oppose a measure which greatly facilitates gun confiscation. Guess what: We don’t CARE if you think it’s not rational for us to refuse to cooperate in our own cultural anihilation. You don’t get to assign our interests, and declare us irrational if we pursue our actual interests, rather than the ones you think we ought to be pursuing

“What in the blazes again is so oppressive about not being able to hunt deer”

I refuse to answer that question on the basis that it’s both remarkably stupid, and beside the point. Google “the 2nd amendment isn’t about hunting'; You’ll only get about 3/4 of a million hits.

49

Rofe 04.23.07 at 11:24 am

John Emerson (#35): I’m not disputing your overall point, but the table you linked to is somewhat untrustworthy. For example, the percentages for Alabama are clearly wrong, and the total percentage of households owning guns is 33.6% by my calculation rather than the 31.7% shown. Not a big difference, perhaps, but it does cast the robustness of the table into question.

bi (#48 et al): What is so pernicious about hunting deer? Perhaps it’s not your cup of tea, but I see no rational reason that you’d want to ban it. It’s exactly this kind of stance that allies the hunters with the gun nuts.

Brett: Your portrayal of the NRA (conveniently?) ignores a few niceties like the NRA’s devout opposition to armor-piercing bullets and the frequently abused gun registration laws are something I’m curious about. Please offer some specifics (excluding Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, etc., since they have zero to do with any form of government we have ever seen in the United States).

Cheers,

50

Rofe 04.23.07 at 11:33 am

Brett (#49): Aha, I see. Gun registration = gun confiscation. And your dreaded “cultural annihilation” is so distinctly to be avoided that the 2/3 of Americans who don’t even own guns (let alone whatever portion of gun owners are like me) have to pay the price of thousands of gun-dead Americans every year just to preserve your culture.

Just like bi’s comments show why hunters are allied with the gun nuts, your last comment (when the drape is pulled back) shows why anyone who wonders why America has so many gun deaths despairs of ever having an honest discussion about the topic.

Cheers,

51

Rofe 04.23.07 at 11:39 am

Sorry, correction to my own #50: Should read “. . . NRA’s devout opposition to restrictions on armor-piercing bullets . . .”

Because, as we all know, the deer have taken to Kevlar and armored Humvees.

Cheers,

52

Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 12:45 pm

“NRA’s devout opposition to restrictions on armor-piercing bullets”

Is a devout opposition to bans on standard hunting ammo portrayed as restrictions on armor piercing bullets.

“Another rifle caliber, the 30.30 caliber, was responsible for penetrating three officers’ armor and killing them in 1993, 1996, and 2002. This ammunition is also capable of puncturing light-armored vehicles, ballistic or armored glass, armored limousines, even a 600-pound safe with 600 pounds of safe armor plating.
It is outrageous and unconscionable that such ammunition continues to be sold in the United States of America. Armor-piercing ammunition for rifles and assault weapons is virtually unregulated in the United States. A Federal license is not required to sell such ammunition unless firearms are sold as well. Anyone over the age of 18 may purchase this ammunition without a background check. There is no Federal minimum age of possession. Purchases may be made over the counter, by mail order, by fax, by Internet, and there is no Federal requirement that dealers retain sales records.
— Senator Edward Kennedy, New York (February 26, 2004, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, Congressional Record, (Pp. S1634-5)”

30-06 is a standard deer hunting round. As was pointed out to the Senator at the time.

“Aha, I see. Gun registration = gun confiscation.”

No, gun registration facilitates gun confiscation. (In NYC, for instance.) But isn’t that enough reason to oppose it, if you’re opposed to gun confiscation?

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Pete 04.23.07 at 1:34 pm

http://saunderslog.com/2005/12/09/gun-violence-in-canada/

Some interesting statistics there, relating to gun violence versus legitimate gun ownership. The UK has a total ban on handguns outside of the police and military, and heavy restrictions on other guns. We also have a high rate of gang- and drug-related gun crime in some places, and are slowly trying to disarm the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

So far as I can tell gun control only affects gun ownership by people who are unlikely to kill, and possibly by mentally ill people to some extent. It has basically no effect on gun murder, which seems to be cultural and connected to the drug economy.

People who support legal drug sales should support legal gun sales, for the same logic applies in both situations; it’s just that the demand comes from different social groups, and the recreational drug users are cooler than the recreational gun users.

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abb1 04.23.07 at 7:03 pm

To reject something just because it can be abused is never a good idea.

Every authority function can be abused, has been abused, is being abused and will always be abused. Police, courts, the IRS, the school committee, the dog catcher – abuse, abuse, abuse. You don’t get rid of them because there’s a potential for abuse, you minimize the abuse and maximize the benefit.

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Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 7:24 pm

To reject something because it can be abused, and actually has little positive utility outside of the imaginations of people bent on abusing it, on the other hand, is only sensible.

56

engels 04.23.07 at 7:33 pm

gun registration facilitates gun confiscation. (In NYC, for instance.) But isn’t that enough reason to oppose it, if you’re opposed to gun confiscation?

Guns facilitate murder. Isn’t that enough reason to oppose them, if you’re opposed to murder?

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engels 04.23.07 at 7:51 pm

Well then might I suggest that it’s the part about gun control having no real benfits for which you might consider providing some sort of argument?

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Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 7:54 pm

Considering that you’re the one advocating the imposition, maybe you might consider that the burden of proof is on you?

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Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 8:05 pm

Engles, guns facilitate murder, that’s true. They also facilitate all sorts of other things, such as recreation and self defense, and do so many hundreds to thousands of times more often. While gun registration faciltates gun confiscation, there’s no legitimate purpose which it significantly facilitates, to counterballance the threat it represents to the liberties of millions. As a crime fighting measure it’s essentially worthless, because the vast majority of crime guns are either not recovered until the criminal is caught, or are obtained by illegal routes such that the registration trail ends at the last legal owner.

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abb1 04.23.07 at 8:50 pm

Well, technology now exists for firearm microstamping, so recovering the weapon used in crime is not necessary. And finding the last legal owner (and, perhaps, charging him/her as the accessory) would be a good start.

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engels 04.23.07 at 8:54 pm

Considering that you’re the one advocating the imposition, maybe you might consider that the burden of proof is on you?

I wasn’t advocating anything. I was just pointing out that you had given no argument for the assertion you had repeatedly made, that gun registration has no significant benefits. Here’s a list of purported benefits, for example.

http://www.guncontrol.ca/Content/FAQ.html

It’s a long list: everything from assisting murder inquiries to reducing gun theft. Now I’m sure your opinion is that none of these benefits are real or significant, but I haven’t seen you giving anything resembling an argument for your opinion, with the possible exception of your last post. As for that point, it seems very likely to me that knowing the identity of the last legal owner of the murder weapon would be useful in a police investigation. Saying this information is “worthless” seems like a massive exaggeration at best.

62

James 04.23.07 at 10:03 pm

Gun “finger printing” is a more detailed and involved form of gun registration used by the Canada government. It involves not only registering the gun but also getting a sample bullet fired from the gun (the finger print). It has been ineffective, the government attempted to use it as a means to take away legally owned guns, and it was hugely expensive.

Concerning the comment about Iraq and other locals of unrest. When both sides are armed its a civil war. When only one side is armed its a genocide. Pick your poison.

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engels 04.23.07 at 10:45 pm

This editorial [pdf] in the Canadian Medical Association Journal lists a number of benefits which seem to me to be significant, viz.

What the registry adds to gun control is that it links the firearm to the owner. Because the registry makes the owner responsible for specific guns, he or she is more likely to store them safely. This reduces the chances that children, people suffering from mental illness or addicted to drugs or alcohol, or people involved in personal disputes will use a firearm. It also reduces the chance of theft. Stolen guns are increasingly traded for drugs or sold to illegal international arms traders.5 Jurisdictions with licensing, registration and other controls report that fewer guns are available to criminals. 6 Registration also provides police with the information needed to enforce firearm prohibition orders and to recognize risks in volatile situations such as domestic violence.

In particular, they cite this study, which appears to provide evidence that gun registration reduces the ability of criminals to get their hands on firearms. That seems a bit more persuasive to me than hysterical rhetoric about “cultural annihilation” and paraphrases of Niemöller.

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Brett Bellmore 04.23.07 at 10:58 pm

“in the Canadian Medical Association Journal”

You know, there’s this field called “criminology”. They don’t use the word “Medical association” in the names of their journals, and they have the modesty not to publis “studies” on the virtues of bleeding as a treatment for kidney failure. A pity doctors aren’t similarly modest as to the univeriality of their competence.

65

J Thomas 04.24.07 at 2:06 am

You people are trying to argue about gun control.

This is not a topic where rational discussion is useful.

Let’s try a farcical thought experiment. Imagine that in large parts of the country there was a tradition that on one particular day of the year it was considered acceptable for men to rape any women they could find. So on that day pretty much everything stopped — some men would be spending the day protecting their womenfolk, and some men would be looking for inadequately protected women, and almost all the women would be hiding.

Of course people would argue about it. Proponents would point to their interpretation of the Constitution that support the practice. Opponents would talk about STDs. Proponents would explain that the (few) random childbirths are a good thing and increase the genetic variability of the race. Opponents would say it’s unethical and barbarous. Proponents would point out how it strengthens families, that men protecting their wives and daughters from outright physical threat is great. Opponents would point out how bad it is for women. Proponents would put forth statistical studies showing that places that have rape day have fewer rapes the rest of the year. Back and forth, back and forth.

But what it would come down to is that such a big slice of the public would be dead-set against quitting the custom, that nothing would be done. They’d just keep arguing back and forth for years and years and years.

I tend to think that gun ownership is not nearly as bad as a rape day would be. But the principle is the same. A whole lot of men really really like having guns. They go to shooting ranges and practice their aim. They fantasise about being powerful. They feel good in ways they couldn’t do if somebody took their guns away.

No matter who’s right about the rational arguments, there’s no way they’d accept such arguments. Not that any particular gun control arguments are right, I’m saying it doesn’t matter whether any of the arguments are right. It isn’t something that can be settled by rational argument. It isn’t open to discussion.

Think about how you’d feel if people started making rational arguments about how much better off we’d all be if we did start having a rape day. That’s how gun nuts feel about gun control.

Never mind who’s right. It just isn’t worth arguing about. Pick something where you can make a difference. This isn’t it.

66

abb1 04.24.07 at 9:56 am

But the principle is the same. A whole lot of men really really like having guns.

I don’t think it’s a lot of men and even if it was a lot of men, I don’t think this would’ve been a big issue.

It’s not impossible nor even difficult to have sensible gun-control laws and practices while allowing people who like guns to own them. I still think it’s the industry who makes most trouble here.

I mean, in your analogy, it’s as if some paid ideologue/lobbyist argued that we need the rape day because banning it would be a step to banning the sexual intercourse completely. I don’t believe there is a large group of people stupid enough to buy into this argument. It must be the industry.

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J Thomas 04.24.07 at 11:43 am

Aab1, you’re trying to argue this rationally. It does no good.

Imagine that it wouldn’t be impossible or difficult to detect who had sex with whom, and imagine that the government wanted to keep a complete registry of that — just in case.

As it is we try to track that only after someone is diagnosed with an STD, so we can find the other victims and treat them. But if we were to try to track everybody all the time, wouldn’t a lot of people have emotional objections to it? I think that’s the kind of objection a lot of gun owners have to the presumably-innocuous registries you’d like.

A lot of people would feel like government files on who they had sex with would be the first step toward the government doing something about it.

And people who want guns as a symbol of power hate the symbol of government control on their guns. Just hate it.

We’d do better arguing about whether to make everybody pee in a cup every day in front of witnesses.

68

abb1 04.24.07 at 12:36 pm

A lot of people would feel like government files on who they had sex with would be the first step toward the government doing something about it.

OK, I see it now.

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Brett Bellmore 04.24.07 at 1:16 pm

He may be trying to argue this rationally, but when the NRA has about 4 million members, and maybe three or four times that many hangers on who don’t pay dues, trying to pretend that it’s an astroturf movement run by one of the smaller industries in the country is starkly delusional.

“It’s not impossible nor even difficult to have sensible gun-control laws and practices while allowing people who like guns to own them.”

That’s true. The problem is that the sensible laws, the ones that prohibit behavior that actually hurts somebody, or poses a disproportionate risk, (Compare the risks of gun ownership to having a swiming pool in your backyard, for instance.) have all been long since enacted. The kinds of laws that they’re trying to pass today may have to be presented, for PR purposes, as “reasonable”, but they’re clearly motivated by an animus against gun ownership.

As demonstrated by your ‘rape day’ analogy. Just how warped do you have to be, to consider peacefully owning a gun as analogous to rape?

70

J Thomas 04.24.07 at 6:55 pm

Brett, you’re trolling.

People who peacefully maintain their *right* to legally rape once a year, and people who spend the day at home peacefully keeping their families safe, are not rapists any more than people who peacefully own guns are murderers.

However, practically the whole point of owning guns is to be able to kill people. You can enjoy target practice but you could enjoy that with BB guns. You can own a handgun and possibly hunt rabbits with it if it’s low-caliber enough, or you can go to the dump and plunk at rats, but how many people do? Just as the people who would support rape day would want to *be able* to do rapes under controlled, regulated conditions, people who want guns mostly want to *be able* to kill people.

I will repeat my main point, since you may have missed it in all the emotion. There are a lot of people like you who care deeply about their right to defend themselves with guns. If gun control ever becomes a real threat, you guys are all going to turn into single-issue voters. It’s a deeply emotional issue for you, not something that you could be persuaded on by rational argument — even if there were rational arguments in favor of gun control which I do not think is fully established.

Meaningful gun control is not going to happen. Not unless the culture changed dramatically and not until the oldtimers who couldn’t change with the times died out. It isn’t worth arguing about, it just riles people up for no purpose.

We’ve gone a long way toward making tobacco illegal. That’s a different case. Everybody knows it’s an intensely addictive drug. Expensive. Most people admit now that it’s unhealthy. We don’t get that many people strongly dedicated to their identities as smokes even though there’s a well-heeled industry that advertises heavily. It’s different. Smokers mostly know they’re in the wrong but they kind of enjoy their addiction. But gun nuts think they’re right. The more threatened they feel the harder they’ll fight back and the more they’ll organise.

And the number of gun owners who kill people is very low. It isn’t one in a thousand per year. Better to live with it and focus on more important problems.

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Brett Bellmore 04.24.07 at 10:50 pm

“However, practically the whole point of owning guns is to be able to kill people. “

Thomas, there are circumstances under which it is perfectly appropriate, even morally obligatory, to kill people. You HAVE heard of “self defense”, haven’t you? It’s accepted as moral by almost everybody, gun owner or not.

OTOH, I’m hard pressed to think of a circumstance under which rape could even be morally permissible, let alone obligatory. And virtually everyone agrees with me.

Therefore your analogy is both radically inappropriate, and amazingly insulting.

The appropriate analogy would be a proposal to geld all men who aren’t government employed procreators, just because you could potentially use the equipment to rape.

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Pete 04.25.07 at 12:08 pm

The appropriate analogy would be a proposal to geld all men who aren’t government employed procreators, just because you could potentially use the equipment to rape.

On that subject, the UK government is trying to compile a national DNA database, which is effectively a registration of everyone’s procreative ability. They plan to use it for solving rape and other crimes.

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J Thomas 04.25.07 at 12:58 pm

Therefore your analogy is both radically inappropriate, and amazingly insulting.

No, that isn’t why my analogy is unsulting.

My analogy is insulting because it supposes that your intransigence comes because you know what you want and what you want takes precedence over whatever arguments anyone comes up with about the good of society.

It supposes that you are biased, that you start with what you want and then rationalise reasons why it’s good. It supposes, in short, that you are human.

There is no point in me or anyone else arguing with you about the morality, ethics, or utility in you shooting the people you choose to shoot. You’ll decide that for yourself and if it comes to court we can discuss it then.

I claim that it does no good to try to do gun control. The attempt causes more harm than it can do good. Why get all these gun nuts riled up? They don’t kill that many people. Outside the inner cities we lose fewer people to guns than we do to tobacco use. We lose fewer people to guns than we do to side effects of obesity. Rationally, it just isn’t that important.

We fought the civil war because we disagreed about slavery. Over a million people died, lots of people were forced into poverty, slaves who hadn’t been hungry before went hungry for awhile — ideally it could have been handled better, but we decided it was worth the cost because we couldn’t agree and we couldn’t agree to disagree. This case is different.

We can agree to disagree. I feel like I’m better off when people don’t point guns at me. You feel like you’re better off when you can point guns at people. OK, we’ll do it your way. I’ll trust you not to kill me without good reason, and you’ll trust the courts not to punish you too much if you do have good reason.

If most of the people in my town agree with me, we’ll pass local gun control. You can still have guns in our town, just don’t get caught. If you and some other gun nut have a shootout in my town and you win, you can expect legal consequences — and that’s still better than losing. But better still if you can arrange to have your battle somewhere else.

This is not worth a civil war. If we want to cut the death rate, we’d do better to work toward reducing tobacco use. That probably wouldn’t involve making tobacco illegal, but it probably would involve making tobacco companies illegal and tobacco advertising illegal, etc. Or if we decide that suicide should be legal, then we might consider tobacco use a legal form of slow suicide and offer pleasant hospices for them to die in rather than wreck our health care budget trying to “cure” them. (I can see the bumper stickers now. “Cure tobacco, not smokers.”)

But I’m talking rationally again. Sorry about that. The reason it’s utterly useless to argue about this is that it’s a conflict between two irrational desires. Gun nuts have an irrational desire to be able to shoot people. And gun control nuts have an irrational desire to not get shot. There’s no possible way to resolve this issue.

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Brett Bellmore 04.25.07 at 1:18 pm

“My analogy is insulting because it supposes that your intransigence comes because you know what you want”

No, it’s insulting because it supposes that YOU know what I want, and it’s something really nasty.

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J Thomas 04.25.07 at 1:23 pm

Hey, I’m the one who wrote it so I get to decide why it’s insulting.

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Brett Bellmore 04.25.07 at 5:21 pm

No, you can decide how you intend a remark to be insulting, but you can’t decide how it actually insults, because that’s something that’s going on in the recipient’s head. You don’t get to assign other people mental states for them.

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J Thomas 04.25.07 at 6:29 pm

That reminds me of an old chinese story.

Two men are walking home late at night from a beerhall, drunk, and they stop on a bridge to pee.

One of them says, “Look at the fish dancing in the water! See how happy they are in the moonlight!”

The other one says, “You’re not a fish. You can’t know how happy they are!”

The first one replies, “You’re not me. You can’t know whether I know how happy they are!”

In reality I know what’s going on in your head better than you do.

But since I understand you, I know that it isn’t worth arguing with you about it.

Thank you, it’s been a pleasant conversation for me, and I think you may in the future look back on it as a pleasant conversation for you too.

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Brett Bellmore 04.25.07 at 7:18 pm

“In reality I know what’s going on in your head better than you do.”

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

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