Gun control: Centralized vs. Dispersed

Hayek made the point that the debate of whether to have central planning was not over whether or not there would be planning, but over who would plan for whom. This point has an analog in the debate over gun control. The option is not between reason and chaos, but between centralized (and therefore bureaucratic) control and decentralized control.

Just because you (i.e. your ideals as embodied in the Democratic National Convention) aren’t in control, doesn’t mean that nobody is. A decentralized gun control regime is one where individual gun owners are responsible for securing their weapons and criminals are responsible for crimes they commit. Will mistakes be made? In the imperfect world we live in that’s almost a certainty. Will the results be worse than one with government gun control? That’s an empirical question. Political gun control will raise the cost of getting guns, but it will also raise the relative criminal effectiveness of guns. It will save some lives but will also cost some. There will probably be fewer accidental deaths and suicides, maybe fewer crime-of-passion murders, but likely more “kill the witness” murders. If the penalty for using a gun in a crime is high, then the relative cost of killing a witness is low (for example, adding a life sentence for murder on top of a 30 year sentence for armed robbery is like getting a 30-year off coupon on that life sentence).

With 3D printed guns on the horizon (to say nothing of the “dangerous” lack of regulation of machining tools!) an effective political gun control regime would have to expand to all manner of regulation. This regulation would cost a lot! But, one might object, mere money is not worth as much as the lives that might be saved. But it’s not embossed portraits of dead white men that’s at stake. I don’t think we should let economists play God, but I think there is something to economists’ activity of considering what we might be willing to give up for a life.

Money is a medium of exchange; it’s not the end, just a tool we use to make life easier. The cost of regulation is real human well-being, time, and effort foregone. Taking someone’s money prevents them from spending it on what they otherwise would have. It also discourages them from investing further effort into producing something valued by others. Regulation also takes people’s (irreplaceable!) time; saving someone’s (irreplaceable) life provides some moral justification for this, but the cost must be acknowledged.

If (if!) there is a benefit to political gun control (that is if we judge the lives lost under a decentralized regime as morally superior to those lost under a political regime), then we should still consider the cost. In any case, we should all stop using the term “gun control” when we mean “political gun control.” A problem defined is a problem half solved, and the blanket term “gun control” mis-defines the problem.

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5 thoughts on “Gun control: Centralized vs. Dispersed

  1. And your last para’s point also leads to people like me saying that, “Effective gun control means hitting the x-ring first time and everytime.”

    Good rational article, that we should all take to heart.

  2. “A decentralized gun control regime is one where individual gun owners are responsible for securing their weapons and criminals are responsible for crimes they commit.”

    I know who holds criminals responsible for the crimes they commit; who holds gun owners responsible for securing their weapons?

    • That’s no small question. Liability rules, fines, regulations, and private property rules are all possible. Each of these is possible in either a state or anarchist situation, and each has certain costs and benefits.

      The answer of “who” in a state situation is easy so let me start with one possible An-Cap world. Guns are essentially unregulated (I could imagine some guns being unique enough that manufacturers register owners to protect themselves from liability, but there are also 3D printers). As in any An-Cap world, social capital is important and there are lines of communication in place that are similar to credit bureaus now. So if I leave a gun on my car seat at the 7-11 and my window is open, 7-11 has some ability to fine me for dangerous behavior in a public place. If I don’t pay the fine, they announce to the world that I don’t play by the rules and I’m irresponsible in a way that might endanger different businesses’ customers. If 7-11 is deemed trustworthy (the way cops and judges are considered generally trustworthy today) and I don’t pay the fine, Walmart won’t let me shop there because I’m too much of a risk.

      Of course, how people react depends on a lot of different things. Was this really a big deal? Does 7-11 often lie to try to extort fines? Am I a first time offender? If I’m a real danger then maybe this is the point where my social-credit score has dipped so low that my choices are leave town or be set adrift on an ice flow (okay, in an An-Cap world the only ice flows are in a mall in Abu Dhabi). In that case, irresponsible gun ownership is not the real problem. But for most people, such a social-credit-score issue will be a fairly viable solution.

      Another possibility is that my irresponsible gun ownership (or failure to meet certain regulations determined by my burb-clave) results in my being fined by my protection agency.

      Since getting a gun is so easy that there’s no point in keeping track of most guns, I would expect most solutions to look like those above or rules along the lines of “you must check your weapons at coat check before coming into this business.”

  3. “Liability rules, fines, regulations, and private property rules are all possible.”

    Good enough. I think your point about 3D printers is well taken. They will only become cheaper over time.

  4. […] NOL has been around since 2012 and I’m starting to see a number of posts attain “classic” status, which simply means that they are popular year after year and thus have a bit of staying power. Barry’s post on Foucault’s political thought always brings in a bunch of traffic, as does my post on libertarian intelligence. Amit’s post about migration from Bangladesh has become a classic since only last year, as has Rick’s “Gun control: Centralized vs Dispersed.” […]

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