Monday, July 28, 2008

Speaking of Guns and Hunting...

Morning's Minion has a post up at Vox Nova where he discusses handguns and what to do about them: thoughts naturally fell on the just war criteria. The key in this context is the notion that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. The free availability of handguns for “self defense” is– in the present context– a “disproportionate” response to any perceived threat, broadly defined, in the sense that it contributes to far greater evils in society than the good of protecting one’s family. In other words, we can adapt the proportionality criterion to say something like: “the unrestricted private possession of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.

And let’s talk for a minute about those greater evils. As I’ve pointed out again and again, the level of gun-related homicide and suicide rates in the United States is off the charts by comparisons of countries with similar levels of economic development. And yet, as Harvard’s David Hemenway points out, the United States is not exceptionally violent among high-income industrialized countries. What makes it different is the level of “lethal violence”. So while guns may not turn people into criminals, they make crimes lethal. And the international evidence shows that murder and suicide rates are positively related to levels of gun ownership, and that the detrimental effect of guns is greater in the presence of underlying social and economic tensions.

I have mixed feelings about this. I share his concerns about rampant murder in the US (something with which I have some direct, personal experience, by the way.)

However, I also find a handgun is handy in the Fall if I need to humanely finish off a deer in the woods after wounding it with a poorly-placed rifle shot. If the deer is on rocky ground, a rifle bullet may ricochet, and a shotgun will ruin an awful lot of meat (a Wanton Waste ticket can run into the many hundreds of dollars.)

So, a handgun is a handy tool for hunting, but their free availability contributes to the high murder rate in the US. What to do?

My honest answer is, I don’t know. I probably come down on the side of regulation and permitting of handguns, rather than an outright ban.

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