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By John Kell

While a friend and I were talking about gun control, he remarked that it didn’t matter to him if restrictions were placed on gun ownership because he didn’t own a gun. What he failed to realize was that he benefits from civilian gun ownership whether he owns guns or not. He benefits because the ownership of guns by civilians has positive externalities.

Externalities are unpaid-for effects that accrue to third parties from the use of property by its owners. The effects may be beneficial or harmful to the third parties. If beneficial, the effects are known as “positive externalities”; if harmful, they are called “negative externalities.”

For example, someone who walks down a residential street full of well-landscaped yards might enjoy the sight and smell of flowers in bloom. Though the individual homeowners paid for and cared for their particular yards, the walker also benefits. The pleasure the walker receives is a positive externality of the homeowners’ yard care.

Advocates of gun control are quick to point out that innocent third parties sometimes are injured or killed by accidental discharge or criminal misuse of firearms. Indeed, these are negative externalities of guns in civilian hands. What advocates of gun control rarely acknowledge, or even understand, are the positive externalities of civilian gun ownership. Positive externalities may be less newsworthy, but they are just as real and far outweigh the negative externalities of the right to bear arms.

While accidents and criminal use of guns are reported as news, making the negative externalities of gun ownership readily apparent, the millions of peaceful interactions among people that occur each day are not reported. These peaceful events are taken for granted, and little thought is given as to what conditions brought them about in the first place.

Millions awake each morning and find that their homes haven’t been burglarized. The vast majority of stores pass through day and night without being robbed. Many women walk alone or live alone without being accosted or raped. These peaceful happenings are due to many factors, such as burglar alarms, door locks, and police patrols, but many are due, in part, to civilian gun ownership.

One million times each year homeowners and storekeepers protect their property and lives using firearms; often this occurs without a shot being fired.[1] The mere sight of a gun often is enough to send a robber running.

Impressive as this number is, it doesn’t show the full extent to which the crime rate is lowered due to privately owned guns. In those cases where a gun owner thwarts a lawbreaker, it is obvious that having a gun benefited its owner. But those cases benefit non-owners as well.

If the lawbreaker is killed, he will commit no more crimes. If the lawbreaker is wounded, captured, or even escapes, his inclination to commit a similar crime in the future is probably lessened. The peace that arises from the disinclination or inability to commit another crime is a positive externality of gun ownership.

Crime Kept in Check

It cannot be known how many times each day potential burglars think, “I’m not going to break into that house; I might get shot.” Even though it is difficult to evaluate how much crime is kept in check by civilian gun ownership, there is evidence that suggests its damping effect is substantial.

In Orlando in 1967, the numbers of burglaries and rapes fell substantially after 2,500 women went through a well-publicized training program on the use of handguns.[2] In a survey taken of felons, 43 percent stated that the fact that a victim might be armed had caused them to avoid particular homes or people.[3] There probably is no way to determine how many law-abiding citizens might turn to crime if it were a less dangerous occupation.

A friend of mine, a gentle and honest man, once confided in me that he had stolen a car when he was a teenager. He and three friends had been walking down a street in the small town where he lived, noticed a car with keys in the ignition, hopped in and drove away. Their joyride ended when they were pulled over by the local constable.

My friend said his act of thievery hurt his mother more than anything else he ever did, and he regretted it often. He was guilty of theft and knew it, but he said he wished that the car’s owner hadn’t left the keys. Even though a well-equipped criminal can break into a locked car in less than a minute, leaving cars unlocked with keys in the ignition greatly increases the number of thefts.

The lesson here is that if it is very convenient to commit a crime, more people will commit it. This is not to say that everyone is dishonest; it’s just a basic law of human nature that people will choose the easy way over the hard way when confronted with a task.

In the task of living, it is easier to take than to make. As Frederic Bastiat said, “. . . the very nature of man . . . impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.”[4] Copyright laws are violated daily by otherwise honest people with access to photocopiers and tape recorders. The crime is so convenient and the victim is so distant, most people who commit copyright violations probably wouldn’t consider themselves criminals. Bastiat said, “When, then, does the plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.”[5]

Gun ownership by civilians makes burglary and robbery very dangerous and often very painful. About one-half of all homes in the United States contain firearms.[6] Someone considering carrying out a burglary has no way of determining if the house he plans to enter has guns in it, so he avoids all occupied houses, benefitting those who don’t own guns as well.

People who don’t own guns know implicitly that they benefit from private gun ownership. How many of them would put a sign in their yard that says: “The owners of this house will not defend it with armed force.”

Jails are full of repeat offenders. That is evidence that punishment is not a strong enough deterrent for some people. The punishment served up by the criminal justice system usually occurs long after the crime, further attenuating any deterrence value it may have.

But negative reinforcement, the condition provided by an armed homeowner at the time of an attempted crime, is an effective deterrent. Such immediate and life-threatening action makes crime a hazardous occupation, and if crime is made a dangerous way of life, the number of criminals will decline and society will be a safer place for all.

Restraining Government

Another positive externality, even less apparent, is the restraint that has been put on government action because of civilian gun ownership. What policies might have been put in place by federal, state, and local governments had civilian gun ownership been heavily restricted?

In the many years since the founding of our nation, what rules might bureaucrats have written if they hadn’t needed to worry about an armed revolt of the masses? What invasive policies might they have come up with to make enforcement of their laws easier?

There are thousands of laws in the United States that restrict gun ownership in one way or another. Restrictions include waiting periods, bans on concealed weapons, and bans on owning particular kinds of weapons such as handguns or military style semi-automatics.

Gun control advocates support these laws because they hope to eradicate negative externalities, but reducing gun ownership eliminates positive externalities as well. In fact, gun control laws probably cancel more positive than negative externalities, because law-abiding citizens are much more likely to obey the rules than are criminals.

The negative externalities of guns need to be decreased, but the best way to minimize them is to deal with them directly. Accidents can be reduced by educating owners about the proper care and handling of firearms. Such training is being provided by nonprofit groups including the National Rifle Association, and at for-profit shooting ranges.

Criminal misuse of firearms can best be decreased by cutting the overall crime rate. Methods of reducing crime have been discussed by other authors, and include drug legalization, eliminating barriers to entry in the work force, and increasing educational opportunities.

Since we don’t pay for positive externalities, we seldom think of their value. Indeed, it would be a formidable task to measure the total value of the positive externalities of guns in private hands. However, even without that measurement, the knowledge of the existence of positive externalities should help us to understand why so many people consider the right to own firearms to be a priceless freedom.

 

Mr. Kell is a botanist studying for his Ph.D. in biology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.

 


  1.   Gary Kleck, “Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force,”Social Problems, February 1988, p. 4.
  2.  Ibid., p. 13. Rapes had decreased by 89 percent one year after the program. Burglaries dropped “substantially” as well.

  3.  Ibid, p. 12.

  4.   Frederic Bastiat,The Law (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1950), p. 10.

  5.  Ibid., p. 10.

  6.   Kleck, p. 1.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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57 COMMENTS

  1. What part of gun control industry are you having trouble understanding? Billionaire fascist own and run the industry. It’s a business designed to violate your human and civil rights. It’s what fascists do.

    Naturally they ain’t going to say any thing positive about guns.

    • Plus the messaging (eg propaganda) given is that guns are evil killing machines with no good or redeemable qualities. They are magical tools of demonic power that corrupt otherwise decent choir boys and straight A students to become…”gun safety violators.” The NRA through their black arts directly inject the wickedness into each blood thirsty weapon, putting 10X murderous vibes into high powered “weapons of war.”

      Remember, there are too many guns, also too many guns on the street, and it’s easier to get a gun than to vote or a book. And automatically, upon acquiring a gun, people immediately shoot up the nearest school or house or worship. That’s why those are gun free zones and you can’t have gun stores near schools or churches, because all those new guns will be used to kill people at those schools and churches, it is scientific fact.

      There couldn’t possibly be a useful or even positive use for guns, any guns in your house will be used against you or kill you while you sleep, so don’t own any. Democrat politicians can own guns, but just hunting guns, but they don’t actually kill animals because that’s mean and animals have a right to live. Just take a once a year sporting clays shoot, be sure to use lead free shells, and carbon offset any pollution you may have contributed.

      • Tell me the last time you had to fill out a Federal Form and pass a FBI background check to buy a book or enter the Library or to vote.
        “easier to get a gun than to vote or a book.”
        And criminals LOVE “gun free zones” because it’s a soft target and nobody can defend themselves.

  2. All very true. Yet, if non-gun owners will not contemplate positive externalities then we fail in teaching the lesson.

    I suspect that the lesson will almost always be lost on those who live in safe neighborhoods. These folks just can’t imagine the possibility of a riot in such a peaceful place as Portland or Seattle. When the riot actually occurs in Portland and Seattle they can’t imagine that it could happen in Kenosha which is so much like those two cities.

    If there is any receptive audience at all it’s apt to be in the inner-city; and like places which suffer regular reminders of how vulnerable they are. Voters in such precincts suffer cognitive dissonance; and it’s somewhat understandable.

    They don’t want their neighbor’s son or nephew sent to prison. Yet they don’t want him armed and doing drugs either. They hope the cops will disarm him and confiscate his drugs; but not shoot him nor arrest him.

    So far, such voters are getting what they have voted for in the foregoing respects. Shooters and dealers are being spared prison in many cases; or, given short sentences, not fully served. But, then, they are free to prey upon the unarmed.

    These voters don’t want prisons, arrests, shootings, or any other forms of crimes. Most of all, they want to be safe themselves. If safety is really the compelling goal, then many will have to arm-up.

      • Sorry, ant. Communism died a long time ago. Fascism is the order of the day. You should be happy about that judging by your comments. Or did you not get the memo?

        • “Communism died a long time ago”

          the ones behind it are untouched, still using the same methods and still pushing for the same results.

          “What’s the functional difference?”

          the gestapo loved their country and worked against its enemies – that is why communists hate them and seek to equate every bad thing with them alone. the kgb hated russians and worked against them – the communists seek to implement the same thing in the united states.

        • The overwhelming mass of people the Gestapo imprisoned and killed were German.

          “The gestapo loved their country and worked against its enemies” is the kind of thing you can only say if you think “the enemy” isn’t human. It’s the kind of thing you can only say if YOU are a little bit inhuman — or very stupid.

          It’s also the kind of thing that means you ain’t from around here, and no matter how long you hang around, you never will be.

        • Less private industry support of the Government’s authoritarianism. End result is about the same but a slightly different crushing by the leviathan.

  3. Well John Hall you did an awful lot of the usual explaining. So much that you failed to define “Gun Control” for your lost in space compadre. Had you defined Gun Control at least he could see the other side of the coin. But when it comes to defining Gun Control it’s not just you John who cannot hit the broad side of a barn…

    Yesterday we listened to the Gun Talk Radio show and a conversation came up about those under 21 not being able to purchase a handgun thanks to the 1968 Gun Control Act. So there they were the host and the attorney talking about a court case to allow those old enough to serve, etc. getting their Second Amendment Right restored.

    Mr. Tom Grisham host of Gun Talk…It is called the 1968 “Gun Control Act.” Key Words: Gun Control. There is nothing new about discrimination and Gun Control because Discrimination is inherent with Gun Control. And even more inherent are slave shacks, nooses, burning crosses, concentration camps, gas chambers, swastikas, etc.

    I’m listening to someone who has the microphone and presents himself as someone who is out on point defending The Second Amendment. If it were the 1968 Jim Crow Act I wonder if that would get a rise out of those who do a lot of talking and when they are done talking Gun Control and all its evil leaves without even a scratch?

    By their repeated failure to define Gun Control apparently they are blind or forgetful or are not the least bit concerned about all the racism and genocide baggage that came with and comes with Gun Control. That Racism and that Genocide left in the wake of Gun Control are clear viable warnings left behind by those who were disarmed and paid the price. When you hear Gun Control Mr. Grisham you need to start waving the warning flag by simply giving a one minute history lesson that honestly defines Gun Control. And never let your audience leave without understanding what a smelly turd Gun Control is.

    Mr. Grisham If you were in San Francisco and someone told you the sidewalks along the street you are fixing to walk down are lined with poo would you proceed or would you change directions? There is much more that needs to be said about Gun Control and less said about hold your breath courtroom drama. When it comes to the rot based 1968 Gun Control Act it is a clear case of, Freedom VS jim crow, hitler et al.

    • “And even more inherent are slave shacks, nooses, burning crosses, concentration camps, gas chambers, swastikas, etc”

      but you never get around to hammer-and-sickle or gulags, which are far more associated with gun control and resulting slavery and holocausts.

  4. Positive Effect: my daughter met a guy online. I had a private detective check him out. Clean. Entire family is clan and wholesome. However, a left coaster, from Seattle, heart of Antifa country. He flew in to visit. My daughter tells me he whispered to her “Your Dad is carrying a gun? Is that because of me?”

    Like I said: Positive Effect.

  5. “The Gun Control Industry Never Seems to Talk About the Positive Effects of Civilian Firearm Ownership”

    because the positive effects of civilian firearm ownership are negative for the ones behind gun control.

  6. My guns are a menace! Two of them went off in the safe the other night. One, I KNOW, is racist. I caught a .22 lurking in the kitchen last night. I need these OUT of my house!

  7. They came for the gun owners, but I wasn’t a gun owner so I didn’t speak up……..

    Then they came for me and there was nobody with guns to speak up for me…..

  8. Another positive externality of common firearms ownership is it can drive down costs. Numerous firearms being available and fewer restrictions on them make them cheaper for those who currently own them and want to buy another as well as first time buyers. Same goes for ammo (though right now it does not feel like it). Economy of scale drives down cost when there is high demand and high supply.

    And its not just for self defense firearms. This drives down the costs of guns designed for other purposes like target shooting and hunting. It also can drive down the cost of weapons that are not firearms as well. Alternatives to firearms must compete price wise if firearms are plentiful and barriers to them are few.

    • This is an excellent point and one often overlooked.

      When I studied economics 1/2 century ago we hardly thought about the possibility of increasing economies of scale. Yes, it was important when you went from 1 to 10 or 10 to 100 units of production. Very important. But our thinking at that time was that you would – almost certainly – reach the lowest cost of production for a “big” factory. Then, you built a second, third, etc. factory. Yet, your cost per unit would have reached it’s minimum.

      Only recently have we taken notice of ever-increasing-economies of scale. A single monopolist (or a few oligopolists) could maximize profits by producing more and more, at lower and lower prices and selling larger quantities of cheap product to the hungry demanding masses. We see this in telecom.

      I once paid $1/minute to make a phone call to a foreign country. Today, I pay ZERO; for a video-phone call.

      We won’t see so dramatic ever-increasing-economies-of-scale with a manufactured product such as guns and ammo. But prices should go down unless the government imposes taxes and costs-of-doing-business to offset those gains.

      • Electronics hardware illustrates the point even better: I once got my wife a $3300 42″ plasma TV, which would have been 5-10x as much a few years prior. Now a (far better) 42″ flatscreen is over an order of magnitude cheaper.

        I wouldn’t discount the same effect in firearms. The AR is a perfect example. Some friends who share my interest in gun design, customization, and building like to talk about how the AR-15 has far too many parts, and how many of the individual parts are ridiculously complex and elaborate. I once held similar views.

        It’s still a valid point: the AR barrel extension, for example, would be far more complex (if not impossible) for me to build with my home machines, compared with something built for a simple 2-3 lug bolt. OTOH, there are SO many AR builders that that little model of labyrinthine complexity goes for about $17, even amid the COVID / riot frenzy.

        • hard to say something complimentary about an AR when the little springs and tiny detents go flying across the room….

      • “I once paid $1/minute to make a phone call to a foreign country. Today, I pay ZERO; for a video-phone call.

        dude. you don’t get it. this is not economy of scale, this is 1) using subsidies to eliminate the competition, and 2) making, not the phone time, but you yourself, the product – it’s intel collection.

  9. “They came for the gun owners, but I wasn’t a gun owner so I didn’t speak up”

    you start at the end of the famous disinfo diatribe. try starting at the beginning.

      • “You really are delusional”

        start at the beginning. with this subject, you’ll see the original (and thus this subject) differently.

        • I get it, ant, I do. You’re a died in the wool nazi. You blame the jews for what you perceive as wrongs done to the white race.

          The thing is, there are no, none, differences between you and the so-called communists. None.

          Rationalize it anyway you want. But both ‘ists’ are the bad guys.

        • “I get it, ant, I do.”

          not yet. let me know when you start at the beginning. then you’ll start to get it.

        • “I’m never going to get it the way you do”

          it’s intellectually exhilarating to understand, whether one agrees with him or not, what another person thinks, and why. it opens up whole new vistas of perception and realization. try it.

    • https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists

      Read it yourself.

      There are many statements made before and after his quote depending on where he was speaking at the time.

      If you would like you could always show us the beginning you refer to right here.

      If you don’t like that one you could always read the first 20 pages of the collection of books “The Gulag Archipelago” that basically outlines the same thing from a completely different viewpoint and country.

      • I understand the reference. I get it. No one else who needs a Road to Damascus event will.

        We would do better to recount the racist history of gun control. That will resonate with a major audience.

        We would do better to recount the oligarchies in Latin America. The victory of the Mexican Revolution over the Porfirio Diaz regime was not won with flowers.

        • “We would do better to recount the oligarchies in Latin America. The victory of the Mexican Revolution over the Porfirio Diaz regime was not won with flowers.”

          Good luck opposing Santa Claus.

  10. Excellent and well-written article! I found the Bastiat quotes particularly thought-provoking and inspirational.

    There’s no real “mystery”, though; the same silence applies to every freedom. Freedom (of any kind) is the ultimate Darwinian wedge. It lifts up anyone who is reasonably capable and willing to invest the thought and effort. It is also terrifying to the weak, lazy, and stupid. Some force themselves to overcome the terror, or are forced by circumstances, but blaming some mean and scary external factor or group is so much easier and more comforting.

  11. Comparing externalities is useful and interesting, if used as a method to evaluate outcomes. Externalities are not allowed as a criterion to select between policy choices, because such externalities are equivalent to the “governmental interests” to be balanced under either intermediate scrutiny or rational basis reviews.

    The Heller decision discusses (pps. 62-63) the inappropriateness of applying an

    “interest-balancing inquiry” that “asks whether the statute burdens a protected interest in a way or to an extent that is out of proportion to the statute’s salutary effects upon other important governmental interests.”

    and observes

    The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government—even the Third Branch of Government—the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon.

  12. Let’s talk about the gorilla in the room, the nasty secret, the dead fish on the table: defense of the constitution; defense of the republic; forcefully throwing off tyranny.

    We like to talk about how 2A isn’t for hunting, or sporting, or even self-defense. What is it for? Why are 2A defenders trying to soft soap the issue?

    Start talking to anti-gunners about the unorganized militia being ready to repel, to stop, government tyranny, and you are instantly considered an enemy of the state. You become “the threat” to the nation, the people. You are also talking utter non-sense, such as to get you arrested and put away for a crime, or mental illness.

    We tell people they need to read the founders regarding weapons of war in the hands of the populace. We tell people that they need to understand that if the populace had not kept and used arms against the Regulars, we would not be an independent nation, but an extension of Canada. What we are telling people is unbelievable, unfathomable, unimaginable.

    Hammering the truth in public (even in private) becomes lunatic gibberish. The anti-gun mafia is worried about a good guy with a gun shooting up the local mall. There can be no persuasive conversation when they finally realize the full implications of the Second Amendment. There can only be reinforcement of the worst intent ascribed to gun owners: kill their neighbors and friends if need be, in rebellion against “tyranny”; a word most (even gun owners) cannot wrap their minds around.

    • Exactly.

      Everyone today can only process mild violence. They completely block out what it would be like if a government went rogue and slaughtered its own people. Can’t happen they say, we’re too civilized….

      Fairy land, all of it, pretend. Pretend bad guys don’t exist, pretend bad things don’t happen, pretend accidents don’t happen, pretend you can prevent someone from just snapping one day and becoming a murderer.

      As long as you pretend or “bury your head in the sand” the bad guys go away, and if they bad guys are away, you no longer need to worry about protecting yourself and if you don’t have any weapons, then I can pretend there aren’t any ways for me to be hurt or killed and I can live a pretend safe life surrounded by good guys taking up arms against evil that I can pretend my taxes don’t pay for.

      • “They completely block out what it would be like if a government went rogue and slaughtered its own people”

        “how we burned later in the camps ….” solzhenitsyn, gulag archipelago

    • “Why are 2A defenders trying to soft soap the issue?”

      1) because the defenders are still hoping (out of normalcy bias) that the government hasn’t really been captured and turned against them.
      2) because the ones pushing gun control are after total tribal victory, and they mean it, and they know from experience everything they need to do to make it work and have no qualms whatsoever about leaving alive nothing that breathes in order to obtain it.
      3) because the first ones out the gate opposing them won’t survive.

      that’s why.

      “You become ‘the threat’ to The Nation, The People.”

      (fify) because you are. you’re a naazi (a nationalist).

    • gun control is just part of a larger agenda…that includes neutering the cops and indoctrinating our kids…the sooner everyone wakes up to that the better it will be for all of us….

  13. Remembering a conversation I had with an outlaw when coronavirus first hit.
    ” Buisness is bad, everyone’s sitting at home holding a gunm.”

  14. I am also sure that in states where it is legal to have a gun in your car, there is a lower incidence of car jacking.

    • I remember when Florida was the carjacking capital of the US…and when it suddenly wasn’t anymore. There was a very good reason for the change.

  15. “The mere sight of a gun often is enough to send a robber running.”

    While true, you don’t necessarily have to show your weapon. I’m sure I’m not the only one to be accosted in a bad situation. Assuming the posture to draw your weapon, while appearing self-confident, can be enough to change the assailant’s mind. Your own mind goes from “Oh crap” to “well if I have to”, and the criminal reads that in your body language. Predators in the animal world, as well as the human, get nervous when the prey shows no fear.

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