A View from a Gun Law Writer

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By thinkerdoer
October 31, 2003

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I, too, was going to remain silent about this issue, in part because it is a very difficult one, but mostly because I do not like cluttering up this board with WAY OT posts. But I think I have something useful to say about guns, laws, and people.

I draft legislation for Congress, and one of the areas I have become familiar with is the gun laws. Because I draft for all comers, I've been exposed to the concerns of those who would loosen the gun laws and those who would tighten them, and I've come to realize that there is no easy compromise to be had on this issue. I think that this is because the differences on this issue are surface manifestations of much more profound differences in attitudes toward risk-taking. To make a long story short, those who advocate looser restrictions on guns are more comfortable with risk-taking than those who advocate tighter restrictions on guns, and this is because the former feel that they can better control risk in their lives than the latter, especially risks involving guns. Differences of this sort are especially difficult to bridge, because there is always a tradeoff between freedom and security, whether on the level of national security or personal security. Certainly statistical studies can assess the effects of particular systems of restrictions on the crime rate, and this may be of use in tinkering around the edges of the problem. But no study will be able to get people to change their underlying attitudes toward risk--only experience can do that. This is one of those fundamental conflicts that will always be present in a democratic system of government. And the extent to which the two sides don't take each other's concerns seriously is the extent to which they will only exacerbate their differences.

At this point, I leave my experience behind and speculate about a mechanism for compromise. There are a number of different mechanisms for reconciling differences in attitudes toward risk, and the one that will matter here is the political marketplace. (Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone in the insurance market could create a security instrument the price of which would be the result of trading between the two groups, and the trading of which would cure this problem? Unfortunately, this problem can't be effectively addressed in that way because of the personal nature of the risks involved.) Our political-economic system permits those who wish to reduce the security risks stemming from guns to do so by banding together into groups who agree to be governed by more restrictive gun laws, and permits those who who are more comfortable with these risks to band together and agree to be governed by less restrictive gun laws. Some communities have done exactly this. This process will naturally continue up to the State level, where there will be certain States with looser gun laws, some with tighter gun laws, and some with laws that vary over time between the two. Some of this has happened already. This is just another example of the famous quote that "the price of democracy is eternal vigilance".

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