22 Dec 2012

A Request For the Free-Riding Single Gun-Toters Who Sometimes Sleep

Pacifism 35 Comments

In light of our recent discussion on pacifism, familiar points arose. I have a simple request:

If you live by yourself and own a gun, I want you to please put a big sign on your front lawn that says:


Note that if you don’t announce this to the world, you are immorally and inconsistently free-riding off of criminals’ fear generated by those in your neighborhood who don’t live alone, or who work trick-shift and might be waiting with a pointed weapon for someone who breaks in at 3am. I hope you will reconsider the effectiveness of your defense strategy in light of my above, brilliant, points.

35 Responses to “A Request For the Free-Riding Single Gun-Toters Who Sometimes Sleep”

  1. Daniel Kuehn says:

    That’s why we’ve got to subsidize it!

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    Actually the ambiguity of how you’re arming yourself itself provides security that your neighbors can benefit from, I’d think – even if you are actually asleep and not sitting with your guns.

    • Ken B says:

      Yes. Uncertainty is a public good here. Think lo jack.

      • Silas Barta says:

        But, but, but what about the criminals’ utility?

        • Ken B says:

          Oooo! Nasty Landsburg shot!

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          When we use welfare economics to make policy decisions we always reserve the right to make calls about standing. No problem there.

          • Silas Barta says:

            I agree. I was mocking the traditional (and often inconsistently applied) rule.

            Moreover, I seriously doubt that there are many cases were you can favor criminals without a net social cost (due to the incentive effects).

  3. Major_Freedom says:

    I’m all in favor of eliminating all machine guns….as long as everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, never owns any.

    Since that is impossible, so is my support for machine gun control laws.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      And to think, some people foolishly say, “I would never, ever use battery acid to coerce information from a 5-year-old.” But if the evil people are willing to do that, we’re just handcuffing ourselves in the fight against evil. Never say never.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        I think we’re mixing some deontological and consequentialist ethics here.

        Gun rights supporters typically use both, of course.

        Gun control advocates are typically just in the consequentialist camp.

        This really colors the debate, I think.

        In the case of war I think it’s flipped. Pacifists have both ethical arguments and non-pacifists are primarily consequentialists.

        But the consequentialist case for pacifism is really bad. Probably of lower equality even than the consequentialist case for gun control.

      • Dean T. Sandin says:

        I think you already have to be a pacifist to buy this argument. I believe that torturing a 5 year old is wrong. I don’t think machine gunning down a violent attacker is wrong, even though I might agree to live in a society where I was sure there weren’t any machine guns.

      • Tel says:

        You hit the hail on the head there Bob.

        I’ll put together a draft to outlaw all batteries.

      • Ken B says:

        This is a typical Bob argument. He makes a syntactically parallel argument where the semantics differ. A machine gun can be used by Gene to directly threaten MF, who can directly use a machine gun to parry that threat. The semantics must match when you do this sort of attempted reductio, and they don’t.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but I actually agree with what you said. IMO, good people have to be armed to at least the strength of evil people, or else evil will win over good…on Earth. Sure, if you think you’re going to continue to exist forever no matter what, then you might be more willing to let evil win on Earth by strength. After all, they can’t really kill you…

        I guess I don’t have that courage/foolhardiness/faith/risk tolerance. Not that I can feel death, but I want to feel life, even if it consists of protecting myself from people like Gene “Machine Gun” Callahan.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          MF so there is absolutely nothing, no matter how disgusting or cruel, that is off the table for you? You are prepared to personally bash in the skulls of 1000 toddlers if a situation arose in which you thought that was necessary to protect yourself?

          • Tel says:

            But your choice of example betrays exactly the reason that “self defense” makes a good choice of criteria.

            It is ridiculously unlikely that any genuine self defense claim is going to eventuate from an adult being attacked by 1000 toddlers. We don’t need to go through an enumerate all the silly things that are not going to happen, we just say that if a jury of reasonable people accept a “self defense” situation, then so be it.

            Having said that, there are probably reasons why a machine gun is not a good choice of self defense weapon, but that’s a matter for the individual to think about. I don’t accept the premise of convicting someone for a potential crime — that is a crime that might perhaps happen, but hasn’t actually happened.

          • Ken B says:

            I expect he’d balk at inflicting on readers the non-sequitur you just did.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              Yes. In case anyone is confused, let me explain: When an analogy would come down on the side with which Ken B. disagrees, then it’s not a good analogy.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            MF so there is absolutely nothing, no matter how disgusting or cruel, that is off the table for you? You are prepared to personally bash in the skulls of 1000 toddlers if a situation arose in which you thought that was necessary to protect yourself?

            I thought we were talking about weapons, i.e. battery acid, and good people having at least as strong as weapons as bad people. I didn’t know we were talking about good people DOING things that are at least as evil as the things bad people do.

            I said that I am totally in favor of banning all machine guns, as long as EVERYONE doesn’t have any, but because in the real world, bad people will flout my rule, I cannot support disarming good people of machine guns, because good people, IMO, have to have at least as strong weapons as the bad people, or else the bad people will win over the good people, by using their stronger weapons with inadequate resistance.

            So when you referred tongue in cheek to bad people throwing battery acid on 5 year olds, my thinking is that good people have to be armed with weapons at least as strong as battery acid…like battery acid.

            I didn’t intend to convey the impression that I think good people should DO the same thing with battery acid to good people that bad people do with battery acid. I am thinking do to the bad people with battery acid what bad people do with battery acid, to protect those good people who are the victims of the bad people who use battery acid aggressively.

            I’ll take this to the extreme: If bad people are going to own nuclear weapons that are capable of annihilating entire populations of good people, then I think good people should be able to arm themselves with weapons at least as strong as nuclear weapons, i.e. nuclear weapons.

            This is not a “race to the bottom”, if that is what you think I am presenting. This is the good constantly and relentlessly overcoming evil by at least matching the strength evil people wield. The core principle that I use to arrive at this conclusion is this: if the good is passive, then the active evil will overcome and dominate the good. Evil spreads where the good retreats.

            Good people in possession of the strongest weapons is my ideal, but since I cannot identify every good person and every evil person in practise, the only way to ensure good people are able to acquire the strongest weapons is by me allowing everyone to have weapons.

            If everyone is allowed to have weapons, then it is guaranteed good people will have them.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              The ideal, IMO, is 100% pacifism, just so you know. But I also think that as long as some people choose not to be pacifist, then good people cannot be pacifist, or else the bad people will eliminate the good people. Then what will we have? Bad people and worse people, and still no pacifism.

            • Tel says:

              … but because in the real world, bad people will flout my rule, I cannot support disarming good people of machine guns, because good people, IMO, have to have at least as strong weapons as the bad people, or else the bad people will win over the good people…

              Even worse than you think. You don’t know who the good and bad people are until some time after the fact, maybe not even then. All you can say for sure is that there are people out there, and some of them have guns.

              If everyone is allowed to have weapons, then it is guaranteed good people will have them.

              Point taken, that does solve the problem of discrimination.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point you’re making here.

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      Now you know how I feel reading the Krugman Kontradictions 🙂

      • Dan says:

        I’m not saying he is wrong, the point just went over my head.

  5. jas says:

    this is a crap argument. make sure you thank every guy, like myself, who is 6’3″, 300lbs, and who is stronger than 99.9% of the rest of the male population (also, every college/pro football player). most of us can tear you limb from limb, and we don’t. if you don’t announce this to the guys that can smash you into oblivion (or if you’re mike tyson, bolivian), you’re immorally and inconsistently riding off of their grace and sanity. you’re also free riding our ability to maintain stability and to regulate the behavior in most establishments. make sure you tip that massive security guard, so that your wife isn’t raped by the crowd of men in the room.

    • Tel says:

      Did you hear about the Digital Millennium Rape Law?

      Anyone caught carrying the tools for rape gets punished as a rapist… just in case… because we want to be extra safe you know.

  6. Tel says:


    This might help to put things more into context (at least from my point of view). Business owners being expected to pay protection money to local gangs. The response from the police is to force business owners to also pay for licenses, so you have both sides extracting their share of the protection money.

    Sadly, the stupid side of this is that the police are also expected to enforce dumbarse drug laws… the same drug laws that create huge revenue opportunities for the criminal gangs. Go figure huh?

    Anyhow, I think that most economists recognize that division of labour will promote greater efficiency. That is to say, a guy who works as a professional thug, will tend to beat the amateur part-timers. However, competition is also necessary so the professional thugs can never get too full of themselves.

  7. Blackadder says:

    People say “you’ve got to fight fire with fire.” But actually you are usually better off fighting fire with water.

    • integral says:

      Are you saying we should start drowning violent criminals?

  8. Matt Tanous says:

    Except Murphy, I don’t believe that positive externalities require one to pay – unless they personally want to increase the benefit they could obtain from the situation.

    That’s always ignored when dealing with externalities. If A obtains a benefit from B doings something without paying, what prevents him from paying B to do more of it to increase his benefit? Why should C, D, and all the rest of the letters be forced to pay taxes to subsidize B instead?

    • Tel says:

      You can potentially get a Tragedy of the Commons situation, but I do not believe Bob has identified such a thing in this case.

  9. GeePonder says:

    The issue wasn’t whether one should own a gun or not own a gun. The issue was about whether one should put up a sign advertising that fact (or non-fact).

    The ambiguity made possible by those that do own them, is a bit of a public good

    • GeePonder says:

      My Bad. I meant to respond to the top level. To Bob’s original post.

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