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How Far Will They Go?

Some interesting legal speculation on the upcoming Heller decision to rule on the constitutionality of DC's gun ban, and on the meaning of the Second Amendment.


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Robert wrote:

The article made the distinction between civic and private functions of gun ownership. I'm not clear how much this distinction matters, but I noticed that the article categorized repelling home invaders as a private function.

I think the argument could be made that widespread but non-universal private gun ownership could be a deterrent against crime, and thus it would have a civic function as well.

If a neighborhood was known to be populated by many armed homeonwers (perhaps via a sign that says "we shoot criminals"), criminals might not want to enter any of the homes in the neighborhood, since they won't know which homes are guarded by gun owners and which are not.

I wouldn't want to live in such a neighborhood, but I think many people who read this blog would!

Rand Simberg wrote:

Why wouldn't you want to live in such a neighborhood? It would be much safer than most neighborhoods in DC, where guns are banned, and crime is rampant.

John Lott wrote a book about this, called "More Guns, Less Crime." In a society where people are allowed to carry, and particularly concealed carry, so you don't know who is and isn't, not everyone has to. Most people are free riders, getting the benefits of the safety provided by being among legal gun carriers while being unarmed.

I'll bet if you were in a shopping mall that was being shot up, your first thought wouldn't be, "Gee, I'm glad that the only person with a gun here is the nut case."

Jonathan wrote:

After this week's POW decision, and remembering the idiocy of Kelo, I have little confidence in the judgment of any SC majority.

FC wrote:

If the Boumediene decision is any indicator of this Court's logic, the Heller decision will be to outlaw peach sherbet.

Robert wrote:

>Why wouldn't you want to live in such a neighborhood?

With that many guns in the hands of untrained civilians, I'd be worried about accidental shootings, particularly involving children, but also involving drunk people.

I don't know the stats, and I am speaking from ignorant prejudice, but I wonder which contributes more to accidental shootings - children's inquisitiveness or alcohol misuse. My neighborhood is pretty safe, but we have lots of kids and certainly many more drunken goofballs and hotheads than home invaders or shopping mall psychos.

If the guns were in the hands of a disciplined well-regulated home-based militia, I might not worry. I would also expect there could be various technological solutions to keeping guns locked up from non-owners and impaired owners, but quickly accessible in the event of a home invasion.

Rand Simberg wrote:

With that many guns in the hands of untrained civilians, I'd be worried about accidental shootings, particularly involving children, but also involving drunk people.

Who said they were untrained? That's a new condition.

Robert wrote:

I'd say "untrained" is the default state for anyone on any subject. If "trained" should be my default expectation for gun ownership, is the training mandatory, or just typical? Most importantly, is the training sufficient to make accidental shootings rare enough that I'd be irrational to worry about it?

(My wife just walked by, and I posed the scenario to her without sharing own my opinion. She said "No, I wouldn't want to live there, and then proceeded to tell me a childhood story about the time she and her friends were caught playing with hunting rifles. The guns weren't loaded, but she says she remembers thinking "now I just have to find the bullets!" The subsequent punishment is what keeps the memory vivid for her, and of course, she never repeated that misbehavior, but it shouldn't have gotten to the point where she had access in the first place.)

I'd prefer to see any training combined with technolgical solutions to keep kids safe.

Rand Simberg wrote:

It's typical. In the case of concealed carry, it's generally mandatory.

I actually wouldn't necessarily object to a training requirement for gun purchases, as long as it wasn't made deliberately onerous.

Mike Puckett wrote:

Of course you realize more children under age five die each year drowning in 5 gallon buckets than by accidental gunfire?

Joe wrote:

Sounds like your wife got training, as appropriate for her age at the time. Frankly the idea of living in a neighborhood where I thought people were too irresponsible to own a gun would scare the hell out of me. How do you drive in and out of there to where the mature people are? In a tank?

Carl Pham wrote:

Robert, the BATF estimated there are over 200 million guns in private hands in the United States already. (The NRA claims roughly 50% of all US households have one, for what that's worth.)

The CDC tells us that the number of accidental gun deaths is roughly 800 a year, which is certainly tragic, but dwarfed by the deliberate gun deaths (murder 11,000, suicide 17,000), as well as other forms of accidental death (falls 20,000, poisoning 23,000, traffic accidents 45,000, drowning 3,600, fires 3,200).

In other words, statistically speaking, guns cause very few accidental deaths relative to the huge numbers of them already out there in "untrained" hands.

So either, strangely enough, nearly everyone who actually has a gun has gotten the "training" you imagine is necessary -- or no such training is necessary, and plain good sense will work just fine.

I'm kind of inclined to believe the latter. A gun is not a spaceship, you know. Or even a car. It's got only one purpose, to kill, and its controls and operation are extremely simple. You point at what you want to kill, and you pull the trigger. If you want to be safe, you should (1) not point it at something that could die, and/or (2) not pull the trigger. That seems so simple I think a 10-year-old would understand.

Your wife's story only illustrates the point. Notice that the gun wasn't loaded, and the bullets weren't stored with it, so that she couldn't find them. Without bullets, a gun is just a metal stick, harmless. So apparently whoever owned the gun had taken the essential safety steps, and your wife was never in any danger. Furthermore, she was apparently severely punished afterward, so that this "untrained" person was well aware of the safety issue, and not the least bit careless. We can assume the fact that the bullets were not with the gun was deliberate.

Consider the possibility that the reason guns in the hands of others makes you queasy is because you have trained yourself to ignore the fact that your life is already in the hands of strangers every day. You drive, don't you? Any random sixteen yapping on her cell phone could kill you. Even if you only walk, she might run the red light and kill you in the crosswalk. The guy up on his roof adjusting his TV antenna could drop the wrench he's carrying onto your skull, killing you. And so on.

Giving your neighbors guns won't really change how dangerous they are to you. But I agree, it kinda feels that it would, for some strange reason.

Larry J wrote:

I'm kind of inclined to believe the latter. A gun is not a spaceship, you know. Or even a car. It's got only one purpose, to kill, and its controls and operation are extremely simple.

As a former infantryman, I'd go one step further:

A firearm has one purpose - to accelerate a piece of lead in a specific direction. The lead may be aimed at a target where nothing dies, or it may be aimed at a living creature where death is a real possibility.

Safe firearms handling isn't rocket science. The military takes in thousands of teenagers (mostly) each year and teaches them how to safely store, handle, and operate fully automatic weapons. They've been doing this for a long, long time. Compared to that, teaching an adult how to safely store, carry, and use a pistol should be a relatively straight-forward and simple task.

Left off name because... wrote:

I have a CC permit. I don't carry all the time but you won't know when I do or don't. Carrying a firearm makes me less likely to let little aggravations gorw into disputes. ALL the people I know who carry have the same attitude because when you get a permit, the state lays some serious penalties on you for misuse. I agree with this. I travel long distances and you never know who you're going to meet. The states I go through have reciprocal carry. I raised my kids around firearms all three are decent shots(my daughter out-shoots her brothers) and careful because they learned it was a bad idea to mis-handle the guns.

Jonathan wrote:

Robert wrote:
I don't know the stats, and I am speaking from ignorant prejudice, but I wonder which contributes more to accidental shootings...

So why don't you look at data instead of arguing that your neurotic fantasies are a sound basis for public policy?

Perhaps you live in one of the small parts of the USA where legal gun ownership is prohibited or rare, or maybe you simply don't realize how many of your responsible neighbors own, and in some cases routinely carry, guns. It is probably a large number, and ample research finds no correlation between gun ownership and reckless behavior (probably the opposite is true). The annual number - the number, not the rate - of US accidental gun deaths has been declining steadily for decades despite large increases in both population and number of privately held firearms.

Your ill-informed speculations are no justification for restricting other people's freedom.

Carl Pham wrote:

Chill out, Jonathan. First, you do your cause no good by being so nyah nyah in yo' face cranky. Second, keep in mind you want Robert to let you carry a weapon that you could use to kill him and his family, or hold them hostage for unspeakable purposes, et cetera. That's a tall order of trust for which you're asking. You should be polite. Talk to him, argue with him strenuously if you like, but courteously. Pretend he has a gun.

Because he does, of course. You may quack about "rights" all you like, but all rights exist at the pleasure of the majority. If the Roberts form a big majority, they can take your gun away. The Second Amendment won't stop them, because they can just amend the Constitution if they want to.

Jardinero1 wrote:

An oft overlooked aspect of the gun control argument is the right to use guns, in self defense, against other human beings. Guns do not have a meaningful impact on the crime rate where citizens are forbidden from using them in self-defense in most situations. Many states saddle citizens with criminal and civil liability if they use a gun in self-defense. Other states, such as Texas, are much more generous in proscribing the circumstances in which a citizen can use lethal force.

If the Heller decision affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms, you can be sure that the gun control advocates will open a new front at the local level to criminalize the discharge of a weapon to the extent that it will become impractical to keep a weapon for self defense.

Robert wrote:


What kind of scenarios are you talking about? Home invasions are pretty clear-cut, right? You can shoot to kill if someone enters your home uninvited (unless that someone is a police officer with a warrant, or a really young kid, or ?) I mean, once they are in your home, they don't have to also act menacing, right?

Are you talking about scenarios like Bernard Goetz - "the subway vigilante"?

Jardinero1 wrote:

Most states impose a "duty to retreat" on citizens, even in their own homes. The onus is placed on the defender to prove two things: 1. that he attempted to retreat and 2. when he could no longer escape danger he believed his life was in mortal danger. Failure to demonstrate both can bring charges of manslaughter along with the attendant civil liability from the "victim".

In Texas, there is no "duty to retreat". You can shoot just about anybody who enters uninvited. Most of the criminals know this and there is a much lower incidence of breaking and entering in Texas than other states. There are not significantly more firearms, per capita, in Texas than other states.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on June 14, 2008 10:49 AM.

What Is The New Space Suit? was the previous entry in this blog.

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