Guns, Prudence, and Deterrence

A couple of my favourite blogs have addressed the gun control issue as of late. My friend Brad Littlejohn wrote today about how this issue relates to basic principles of jurisprudence, and deftly replied to some of the slogans repeated on the American right about the issue. One excerpt I found important:

Our task, then, is to determine, within the constraints provided by legal precedent, under what conditions the right to bear arms may most prudently be exercised today. This will require careful legal scholarship; it will require careful empirical investigation of the nature and causes of gun violence, of the effectiveness that various preventative measures have had in different times and places; it will require thoughtful political consideration of the unforeseen consequences of gun legislation, of the extent to which it will reduce civil liberties as a whole or encourage the growth of bureaucratic law enforcement behemoth. All of these considerations need to be weighed in the balance, and from different judgments regarding them, a variety of plausible proposals, some quite conservative, others more liberal, may be advanced. A careful debate needs to be had about these proposals, for a great deal may hinge on them.

Steve Hays at Triablogue wrote on a more specific aspect of the debate here and here. One of the arguments proffered by supporters of gun rights is that guns should be freely available to allow for restraint of tyranny. A common reply from control advocates is that even allowing private citizens to own assault rifles would not be an effective restraint against the American military. Steve tackles some of the assumptions implicit in this reply. One excerpt:

There’s also a distinction between the deterrent value of the 2nd amendment, and the effectiveness of an armed citizenry to actively repel gov’t tyranny– if that were to transpire. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that armed citizens would be no match for the US military if it came down to an all-out fight. That doesn’t mean the 2nd amendment would have no deterrent value in preventing the situation from escalating to that point. Gov’t officials who might be otherwise inclined to impose totalitarian gov’t on the masses would also have to consider whether that’s worth the risk of civil war. Even if, after the dust settles, the military won, that might be far too destructive to the physical and economic infrastructure of the country to justify the ruinous cost. If you take a city by destroying the city, you win by losing what made the city valuable in the first place.