Questions For Libertarians – How Would Civil Law Work?

A couple of questions on this from @simonr916

In a minarchist state:

How would such a government come into being and who would
run and administer this organisation? How would decisions on spending money be made? Who would draft the laws, choose the judges, appoint the police officers and so on?

Alternatively In an Anarcho-Capitalist Society:

In such a country, each man would be left to defend his own property and rights. You’d live in constant fear of a larger, or better armed, group taking your property by force. If you choose to have no government, how does the honest man protect his property from those who wish to take it?

I am going to deal with this in a slightly different way because the first set of questions are also important in an Anarcho-Capitalistic society. The questions really boil down to how would a system of law operate in a libertarian society and how would laws be enforced.

There are two distinct types of law, civil law relating to the enforcement of agreements such as contracts and criminal law relating to violations of property rights (including the physical person). I will address civil law in this post and criminal law in the next.

Civil Law in a Libertarian Society

In a libertarian society people would be free to contract under any set of rules they agree on. To a large extent such a system of multiple legal systems already operates. It is quite common in commercial contracts between businesses operating in different countries (which have different legal systems) to include a contract clause that says the contract is to be construed in accordance with the laws of for example, England & Wales or Switzerland. The only difference in a libertarian society is that rather than being restricted to the laws passed by geographic states, they would be free to select the laws drafted by private businesses, such as The National Legal Services Company or the Association of Wine Merchants.

One of the benefits is that the laws could be very specific to the trade in question and being drafted by industry experts on both sides, would be likely to function far more effectively in line with the parties needs and expectations than a generic set of laws applying to the geographic area controlled by the state.

In the event of a dispute the conflict could be adjudicated on by any one of a number of private courts. Again this is already taking place. Many contracts already specify the use of  private arbitration companies, rather than courts. Usually because they are quicker and less expensive.

So to answer some of the questions raised, the laws are drafted by private companies, the courts are run as private companies and the judges/arbitrators are appointed by private companies. Market forces work to continually improve the quality of all parts. Since both sides have to agree to any law, or any court they must continually strive to be as balanced and as fair as possible.

In the state system if a particular judge has a prejudice against dairy farmers they have no choice but to suffer the prejudice. The judge has a state ordained monopoly on the administration of justice in his court. In a free market system, such a judge would simply not get any of the dairy farmers business. A totally partisan judge would go bankrupt!

Since the parties involved bear the costs they must continually strive to be efficient or a lower cost competitor may take their business. Courts that start at 10:00am and finish at 3:00pm would be replaced by courts that optimize their operations to reduce the costs to their clients.

How could the judgements of such private courts be enforced? In the current system if one party ignores the ruling of binding arbitration the state courts and the officers of the state will coerce them to comply. If there is no state, to threaten violence how will judgements be  enforced?

The answer is simple. Those who do not obey a ruling of a private arbitration court are simply blacklisted by the entire private arbitration system and publicly named and shamed.  Who would risk making a contract with another party who cannot have any dispute resolved by a third paty impartial judge and who is known not to honor rulings made by arbitration? It would simply be commercial suicide for anyone to flout such a ruling as they would be ostracizing themselves from the dispute resolution procedure required to trade. (In the event of fraud or other criminal activity additional options are open to the victim as for any crime, which are covered in the following post.)

Such a system is not just theoretically possible but historically mercantile law was developed and enforced by private merchant courts as was admirality law, before the state claimed sole jurisdiction. Perhaps a more recent example of a self regulating commercial community is Ebay. Anyone who cheats customers receives negative feedback which makes it, at best much more difficult, at worst impossible to continue to trade with other members of the community.

Most transactions covered by the civil law would be business to business transactions, but this branch of the law also covers the case of consumers buying from businesses.

What about the “poor”?

How can they pay for private arbitration, if a large corporation breaks the terms of its agreement with them to provide, for example a new satellite dish?

There are several options:

Insurance would be available in the free market to cover the costs. Annual legal insurance for £50,000 can be purchased today for £20 a year (5.5p a day) and the price would be much lower under a more cost efficient private arbitration system. This should be within the reach of all but the very poorest. Without a state funded legal system awareness of the importance of such insurance would be high.

Reputable sellers would include the offer of funded arbitration proceedings in the terms and conditions of their offering to demonstrate their confidence in the high quality of their products or services. The poor could restrict their purchases to only vendors offering this protection.

No win, no fee arrangements where a proportion of any damages are paid out to the person taking the case to arbitration would be very common in a libertarian legal system.

Charitable or pro-bono legal representation would also be available to many, as it is today.

For commercial/civil laws there is clearly no need for the state to be involved.

Posted in General Principles | 8 Comments

Questions For Libertarians – Isn’t it inevitable that inequality will increase with every generation

The next question from @simonr916

“Will a Libertarian world not become more and more unequal
as each generation further entrenches the privilege of the few?

Those people who have been successful will naturally wish to give their own children advantages and protections in life. They will pay for education, help their children develop networks of useful contacts, give them resources to use as capital and so on.

Those who were not successful will not be able to do things. Their own children – through chance of birth and no fault of their own – will have much less chance of success, even if they are hard working and clever. They will, of course, have no state education or welfare support.

Many of the most successful people in society have ‘pulled themselves up by the bootstraps’. Poverty is a great motivator. These people do this through hard work and ability, but they also require opportunity– whether that be a state education (which may allow them to shine and
achieve a bursary for higher education), or a public library for
research, or a small amount of capital to start their own business, or welfare support so that every moment isn’t dedicated to base survival”

It is certainly true that each of us has different opportunities, resources and abilities. The children of attractive parents are more likely to be born attractive, the children of intelligent parents are more likely to be born intelligent and the children of rich parents are more likely to have capital to start their way in life.

However, the relationships are complex. Regression to the mean dictates that the children of highly intelligent parents will not be quite as intelligent as their parents, children of highly attractive parents will not be quite as attractive. Over the generations the children tend to revert to the mean.

Many millionaires feel that to give large quantities of unearned wealth to their children would do them more harm than good and leave their fortune to charities instead.

Many who receive large amounts of unearned income lose it all in a remarkably short period of time. According to some sources 1/3 of lottery winners declare bankruptcy 

I can see two possible arguments in your comments:

1. Inequality would increase simply because inherited wealth accumulates
2. Inequality would increase because opportunities for those without any inherited wealth would disappear.

If the first argument were true, it would also be true, albeit at a slower rate, in any society that did not have a 100% inheritance tax.

We have had countless generations without such a tax and yet 80% of millionaires are the first generation of their family to become wealthy!

The reality is that inherited wealth is more likely to be dissipated by inept children than grown further for the grand children. The saying cloggs to cloggs in three generations or the Saudi version: “My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet airplane. His son will ride a camel” reflect the fact that 9 out of 10 wealthy families lose their wealth by the third generation.

The second possible argument makes the unjustified assumption that without state support there would be no opportunities for those born without wealth.

To equate no state education with no education, no public libraries with no libraries and no inherited capital to start a business with no capital to start a business is simply an error.

Private schools already offer scholarships to bright pupils who cannot afford the fees.
Free education at university level is available online at places like Khan Academy , Coursera and Itunes U . There are thousands of digital books available free for kindle users. It is highly likely that low cost education would be available using shared computers, kindles and online resources such as these once the state monopoly on education was removed. Parents and local communities would also club together to provide access to these resources and charities promoting education and industry sponsored schools would also likely be supported for the very poorest.

As a society we value the importance of education, it is in the interests of parents, children, employers, etc so the idea that it would not exist without the state is simply wrong. The free market and charity can do anything the state can do, usually better and more cheaply.

The idea that without inherited capital you cannot start a business is also simply wrong. The traditional way to acquire capital is to save. Work as much as possible, spend as little as possible and save the difference.

If you have a good enough idea you can bring in outside investors for a share of the business, or you can borrow money and pay interest on the loan.

I had no inherited capital but formed a business through personal savings an external investor and some money borrowed on a credit card.

It is therefore not inevitable that inequality would increase with every generation in a libertarian society. As long as opportunity is not crushed at the bottom end of the wealth scale it would not matter if it did. Wealth is not a fixed pie to be divided up, but an infinitely expandable pie with plenty for all who contribute.

As a libertarian the fact that others have been much more successful than me is not a cause for concern but a challenge to do better myself having had my eyes opened to what is possible.


Posted in General Principles | 3 Comments

Questions For Libertarians – Corporate Deception & Regulation

A combination of two related question from @simonr916

a).Without regulation, what is to stop companies from acting
in amoral or immoral ways to the detriment of all

b).Without regulation and controls, how can we avoid being
deceived and make meaningful choices?

A libertarian world would permit snake-oil salesmen to tour from town to town, making fantastical claims to the poorly educated citizenry (no state education remember) but would also allow big companies to say what they liked.

So tobacco companies could still be telling us that smoking cures asthma, and we’d have no way of knowing how much fat, salt and sugar there is in a happy meal.

Perhaps the first thing to point out is that even with state regulation and controls we are not protected from deception. Homeopathy practitioners, Tarot card readers, psychic healers and all manner of nonsense peddlers continue to operate in our state regulated society. Exploiting the wise state educated citizenry on a daily basis.

Tobacco companies carried out their historic deceptions in a statist society not a libertarian one and  we have recently had the joys of horse meat in our “beef” despite the state funded Food Standards Agency regulating this industry.

You cannot prevent people from saying things that are untrue, unless you are an omniscient dictator.

What matters is how you deal with people who knowingly deceive.

Lets compare the statist and libertarian response to a hypothetical example of a company selling a pleasant tasting drink, Brand X. The company knows it causes cancer, but it is very addictive, causing customers to buy 20 to 40 cans a day and once they start they will be brand X drinkers for life. It is highly profitable product and all the executives are on six figure profit related bonus schemes.

In the regulated statist world
People start to get cancer.
People start to make connections and start to suspect that the problem is with Brand X. They call the authorities who have limited fixed budgets and decide that it is not cost effective to investigate this now, they have other priorities.
More people start to get cancer and more people call the authorities.
Eventually they decide the matter must be investigated and schedule some research.
The research is state funded, budgets are tight and it may take many years to be started. Finally the evidence is in and the case is overwhelming that Brand X is to blame.
Unfortunately the state is earning large amounts of tax income from the sales of Brand X and has a conflict of interest in banning the product.
The chairman of the company is also a big donor to the political party in power and entertains many politicians on his luxury yacht in the Bahamas each year.
A compromise is reached and they negotiate some laws that mean the packages of Brand X have to carry a warning and fine the company several hundred million pounds for deception.
The company pays the fine by missing a dividend to the shareholders.
The executives get to keep the six figure bonuses they made in each of the ten years before the problems were identified and action taken.
Other company executives see this and decide that the punishment for deception is nothing compared to the bonuses they can earn from the extra profit.

They launch brand Y the following week and Brand Z the week after. Incidences of unexplained cancer continue to rise.

In the libertarian world 
People start to get cancer.
People start to make connections and start to suspect that the problem is with Brand X. They call a private law firm.
Seeing the opportunity for a profit from a contingency fee arrangement, the private law firm hires a private research firm immediately to do some preliminary research.
The results look damaging so they pay to have a full study done immediately.
The evidence is overwhelming against brand X and the law firm takes action.
Since there are no limited liability corporations in a libertarian society the individual executives and investors are held personally accountable.
Libertarian justice operates on the principle of restitution for the victims. Those managers or investors the court is satisfied knew brand x caused cancer are guilty of murder. Libertarian punishment is set by the victims or their heirs and for murder the maximum punishment is the death penalty.
The injured parties signed an agreement with the law firm allowing many of the more junior guilty parties to buy themselves out of their punishment by selling all their possessions including their homes, with the money being paid in compensation to the victims and their families after covering the legal and research costs.

The managing director and senior executive team are executed at the request of the victims. The share price plummets costing individual investors most of their life savings.

Other executives see this and decide that deception is very risky.
Investors see increased risks in the food and drink industry and refuse to get involved with any company unless they hire an independent research firm to confirm the safety of all products before launch.
Junior managers and employees refuse to work for food companies that don’t allow staff association appointed researchers to check product safety before launch.

In the coming months Brand P, Brand Q and Brand R are retired and withdrawn from the market. Incidences of unexplained cancer fall steadily.


To be clear there is no system that will ensure nobody is ever deceived.
You cannot regulate and investigate everything so you need consumer or academic suspicions to uncover potential malpractice.
Private, profit motivated law firms and research companies are structurally more responsive then fixed budget bureaucracies.
There are no conflicts of interest between a victim and the criminal who has harmed them, these are possible between criminal and state.
State regulation and limited liability protection creates moral hazard for Executives, employees and investors. Libertarian restitutional justice and personal liability removes this.


Posted in General Principles | 8 Comments

Questions For Libertarians – Without the State, How Will Money Work?

Another question from @simonr916

Without the state, how will money work?

I’m not an economist so this is genuine musing here but the monetary system, as it currently works, relies upon states to under-write and guarantee currency, set interest rates and control supply. I have no idea how this whole system would work in a libertarian world.

This is a relatively simple one.

In the beginning of society trade took place by way of barter. If I wanted your pig and you wanted my goat, we would agree and simply swap. If we agreed that your pig was worth more than my goat, I might have to throw in a chicken or two to close the transaction.

The problem with such a system is that it is very inefficient.

If I want shoes and I have hens and you have shoes but want turnips then we can’t trade directly. I have to find a third party who will trade hens for turnips before I can get the shoes I want.

When people can’t trade for directly what they want, they will trade for items that have a larger potential trade audience. E.g. If you offer singing lessons, you would rather exchange them for corn, which many people will want, rather than quantum physics lessons, which have a much smaller market.

Over time certain trade goods gain the status of currency. Everyone will trade for them and everyone will accept them. In many societies the trade goods that gained the status of currency were precious metals like gold and silver. These had the benefit of being durable and divisible and relatively easy to store. Nobody was forced to accept them in exchange but almost everyone did.

Economies have functioned for thousands of years, using precious metals as money.

One of the modern problems with precious metals is that for large transactions they can be quite cumbersome and dangerous to move around. The solution was to store the precious metals in private bank vaults and instead transport around and deal with certificates of ownership.

The gold could stay secure in the vault and you could buy for example a house by simply transferring the ownership certificate to the gold in the bank vault.

Any private bank could hold gold deposits and issue their own certificates of ownership. Referred to as Bank Notes. Ownership entitlements could of course also be transferred by cards, cheques, etc.

This is how money would work in a libertarian system and how money worked for most of human history.

The state changed the free market system in three main ways:

1. Granting itself a monopoly on the issuing of bank notes in the USA in 1863  in the United Kingdom in 1844

2.By breaking the link between currency physical trade goods, i.e. gold. This happened as recently as 1971 when the United States totally abandoned the Gold Standard

3. Allowing Fractional reserve banking. This gives the bank a legal right to issue more notes than there is gold in the vaults.

A libertarian society would revert back to the system used in the free market from the dawn of the first trading nations up until the time of  these three catastrophic state interventions.

For further reading on money and banking try:

The Mystery of Banking – Murray Rothbard
The Theory of Money & Credit – Ludwig Von Mises

Posted in General Principles | 6 Comments

Questions For Libertarians Taxation & State Funded Services

@Simon916 has raised a number of questions about libertarian views. There are 11 in total and all are sensible questions. I will not go through them in order, I will deal with the what I consider the weakest points first and work through to the strongest.

If Libertarians hold that it is morally wrong for the state to take their money in taxes, why do they not take the principled stand against this moral wrong and refuse to pay tax in the full knowledge of the consequences? Why do they not refuse to use services paid for through immoral means?

I suspect that most libertarians are not living in such desperate
circumstances, or lack the necessary capacity for such absolute self
sacrifice, required to take the drastic action required to bring about
social change in the face of a moral wrong.”

There are two distinct point here.

1. Why don’t libertarians refuse to pay taxes
2. Why do libertarians use services funded by taxes

For libertarians the decision on the first point is simply a choice between two evils. Pay taxes that you think are unjust or have your liberty taken away and spend part of your life in prison!

If a burglar holds a knife to your throat and says open the safe or I will murder you. It is rational to open the safe. It does not imply any hypocrisy to subsequently assert that you are against burglary.

If everyone chose to die rather than open their safe, it would over time change society. Burglars would get no benefit and seek other ways to operate. This would be good for society, but a lot to ask of the first few thousand victims and their families.

The same argument can be raised against socialists. If they feel it is morally wrong for large inequalities in wealth to exist, why don’t they simply rob the rich and give to themselves and take the consequences?

Decisions made under threat of force do not shed any light on the morality of the person being threatened.

I don’t think this is a valid criticism of libertarians. It might be a criticism of humanity that we prefer self preservation to martyrdom, but that is a more general philosophical issue.

The second point is why do libertarians use services funded by taxation. The implication being that it is hypocritical to take the benefits of taxation, whilst opposing it.

A specific example of this point that comes up a lot on Twitter, not in this case from @Simon916, is the claim that Ayn Rand was a hypocrite for excepting welfare and state medical assistance in her final years. I will use Ayn Rand’s own words on the subject (made long before she became ill) to explain the point:

The same moral principles and considerations apply to the issue of accepting social security, unemployment insurance or other payments of that kind. It is obvious, in such cases, that a man receives his own money which was taken from him by force, directly and specifically, without his consent, against his own choice. Those who advocated such laws are morally guilty, since they assumed the “right” to force employers and unwilling co-workers. But the victims, who opposed such laws, have a clear right to any refund of their own money—and they would not advance the cause of freedom if they left their money, unclaimed, for the benefit of the welfare-state administration.

The Objectivist, June, 1966

So taking benefits from the state, at least up to the value of any tax you have paid, is simply restitution. The return of your rightful property, taken by the state without your consent.

What if you consume more in benefits than you have paid in taxes?

In many cases there is simply no alternative to using taxation funded services. E.g. If you want to have a crime investigated and a criminal punished the state has granted itself a monopoly on the provision of this service. If you want to use the road network to travel, the state owns virtually all the roads.

To quote Ayn Rand again:

” The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it.

The equivalent argument to socialists would be that they should starve rather than eat food produced by profit making private corporations or live in the dark rather than use energy created by big oil & gas companies.

If you have no alternatives in the environment you find yourself in, it is not hypocrisy to make rational self serving choices within that framework, and still oppose the framework.




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Gun Control – Answering The Issues Raised 3

“You start your latest posting by defending the use of the Small Arms Survey as the basis for the analysis that you quoted in your original piece. I’m sure that the survey is a useful source of information and I accept that it is quoted and used by reputable organizations. This does not equate to the survey being a suitable, or the most suitable, source of data for meaningful statistical analysis.”

Agreed, but nor does it preclude it from being such.

“You say that the survey seems, to you, to be the best source of data we have and challenge me to suggest a more reliable data source. I’d remind you that in your previous blog  you included a link to an academic article which argued that the proportion of firearm suicides to overall suicides is the most reliable proxy for establishing gun prevalence. This, of course, is the measure used in the peer reviewed article which I provided as evidence of a correlation between gun ownership and homicide.”

Any proxy must be validated against actual ownership. So what has it been validated against? To quote your preferred article

“FS/S, which measures the distribution of firearm vs nonfirearm methods used in suicide rather than the rate of suicide, has been validated against survey-based measures of household gun ownership. A recent study determined that FS/S is the best proxy for household firearm ownership rates of the half-dozen or more proxies that have been used in the literature.19 FS/S is highly correlated with the percentage of households reporting firearm ownership in studies of 16 developed nations (r = 0.91),22 the 9 US census regions (r = 0.93),23 21 US states (r = 0.90),23 170 US cities (r = 0.86),24 and 12 areas within a single state (r = 0.87).19

So  internationally it has been tested on just 16 developed nations. This would require the leap of faith that the correlation holds for all other nations, developed or not. I see no reason why this is intrinsically any more reliable than the small arms survey data. There are many cultural issues that influence the choice of suicide method which are liekly to invalidate any extrapolation. Perhaps we shall have to agree that there is no reliable international data on which to establish a correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates. Of course in the absence of such data we have no reason to reject the null hypothesis that there is no relationship.

However, all is not lost, the data I used for the US state analysis was a survey based measure of household gun ownership. If we have actual survey ownership data we don’t need to use a proxy, that correlates to it. We have actual survey data to work with, the gold standard and that confirms that there is no correlation!

“I didn’t question the US state gun ownership data. I confess that I haven’t given a moment’s thought to the reliability of this data – my time to expend on this debate is limited and my comments have been more than long enough as is. Whilst gun controls and gun ownership may well vary from state to state, there are no controls to prevent the transport of guns from one state to another (apart from in the case of Hawaii, which I believe has both the lowest gun ownership and the lowest homicide rate in the US). As such, state by state gun prevalence is less likely to be relevant than data for individual countries.”

Unfortunately, the “peer reviewed” article that you quote as your primary source of evidence for the correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates is a US state by state analysis!

Based on the above comment I assume you have changed your position and now assert that this is no longer compelling evidence?

I’m sticking with the evidence that I have supplied as the best direct analysis we’ve seen regarding the correlation.

Hmm, that will be the article that uses the second hand proxy of survey data instead of the available actual survey data and uses what you term unreliable state by state data instead of country by country data?

You state that I have ‘glossed over […] the strongest evidence for the lack of any significant correlation’ which you feel is provided by the British Journal of Criminology paper.

Your position is that a large group of criminologists – the bulk ofthose examining the inequality/homicide link over several decades – have all concluded that gun prevalence is irrelevant to crime (based upon evidence unknown), have decided that this is an issue which requires no further study, and haven’t bothered to inform the other large group of criminologists who have meanwhile been hotly arguing this very question. Furthermore, the many researchers funded by the NRA and other pro-gun groups haven’t spotted and pointed out that the weight of unbiased academic opinion is firmly set in their favour. I glossed over it because it is a ridiculous argument.

You have created a straw man argument. I make no comment on whether gun prevalence requires no further study.

It has been your position all along that my original analysis is invalid because it does not control for important variables. Your criticism was

“This analysis makes no attempt to adjust for socio-economic factors such as population density, poverty and inequality, levels of corruption within government and law enforcement etc.”

Your most recent comment abandons this line of attack altogether so perhaps that is no longer your view? However, not a single one of these criminologists felt it necessary to control for gun ownership levels in their studies of homicide rates.

Now you can’t have it both ways, either they didn’t bother to control for gun ownership because it is not worth controlling for. Which supports my position. Why control for an independent variable with zero correlation to the dependent variable?

Alternatively, it is not necessary to control for socio-economic factors and gun ownership in a study aimed at one or the other. Which undermines your criticism of my analysis.

Calling this point ridiculous and creating a straw man argument inferring incorrect views to my position may muddy the water, but does not answer the point.

If gun ownership was highly correlated to homicide rates, you would expect every study on homicide rates to need to control for it. (Most of them seem to control for poverty or inequality for example) They don’t control for it, why not?

“If what you infer from this paper was the case, then those same academics wouldn’t have bothered engaging in any subsequent research which relates to the correlation between gun prevalence and homicide. They’ve already decided, so
wouldn’t waste their time considering the question any further. With some difficulty (Google is my only tool), I’ve tracked down other work by a number of these researchers and can advise that this is not the case:… Long list of Gun Research Papers”

This is a straw man argument again, misrepresenting my view. There is no reason why these researchers would not examine the issues of gun control and violent crime, even homicide in specific circumstances.

I am not claiming, as you imply, that they made a decision to exclude gun ownership because, after extensive analysis they concluded it was not important. I am saying that academic criminologists do not consider gun ownership rates sufficiently highly correlated with homicides to control for it as part of their research into other areas. If it where they would have to, or it would invalidate all their research!

You have done a commendable job in tracking down the work of these authors, in and around the area of guns and gun control and violent crime. However the papers you quote  focus on specific situations e.g. New Mexico Juveniles, high rate offenders and violent crime, rather than any general investigation into homicide rates and gun ownership.

It is in no way inconsistent to accept no general correlation between homicide rates and gun ownership and still want to explore the impact of gun ownership on violent crime committed by persistent offenders or other specific narrower questions.

You provide a list of 20th century genocides and argue that
gun ownership is a defence against genocide.

Let’s start with this evidence that more Americans have died
from domestic gunfire since 1968 than in all wars in their history. That’s 1,384,171 domestic gunfire deaths. Even if we remove 2 thirds of this number as a generous estimate of the number of those deaths which were suicide that leaves
us with over 460,000 homicides and accidental deaths in just over 50 years. So your argument that ‘the smallest of these genocides’ outweighs the damage caused by domestic guns is demonstrably wrong.

Fair point, my error, only the top 6 genocides contained more murders. However, taken as a whole they account for over 67 Million murders, which equates to 7,287 years of US gun deaths! The point remains that it is orders of magnitude more.

By limiting your list to the 20th century, of course, you miss out the native Americans who were subject to a systematic genocide by the US government, despite being armed.

I am not sure that the rate of firearm ownership amongst native americans was very high?
This was also more of a case of invasion, rather than a domestic tyranny. (Which is, of course, in no way to excuse what was a horrendous genocide)

“To take one of the most striking examples which is on your list, the Nazi’s actually relaxed strict gun controls which had been put in place following World War I. Whilst they undoubtedly disarmed the Jews, ownership of guns by other Germans was regulated but not restricted. The Nazi genocide of the Jews was only possible with the assistance – or at the very least without the resistance – of the vast majority of the German people, and it is ridiculous to suggest that the Jewish community, even in possession of side arms, could have mounted a successful armed resistance that would have prevented this genocide. The same can be said of Stalinist Russia, Communist China and the rest.”

If someone came to take away my family in the middle of the night to send them to a concentration camp, rest assured it would be much more dangerous for them if I was armed. It is hard to get even storm troopers to break into a house with an armed citizenry. It only needs a few hundred of them to be shot, before the number of new recruits drys up.

Even with an armed population, there is little possibility that a
minority group within the US – say, Muslims, for example – could successfully defend themselves against a genocide conducted by the government which has gained the connivance of the majority of the population. Without having obtained this support, there is no possibility that the government could carry
out a widespread genocide, even if the population was unarmed.

You make two assertions without evidence.

Does Mugabe in Zimbabwe have the connivance of the majority of the population, or Assad in Syria, did Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Pol Pot in Cambodia? There are clearly counter examples to your position that mass murder of the civilian population only takes place with the general support of the population.

Even if you can find examples where an armed civilian population were subject to a genocide (I am not convinced by your native american example) it does not alter the fact that it is much more difficult and therefore at least some potential genocides would be avoided.

Where two armed groups within a country are sufficiently well matched, the resulting conflict between a government and a significant section of its population is a civil war. Whilst civil wars may be more palatable than genocides, they are often just as deadly.

Agreed, but in some cases neither will happen as both sides see the potential cost is too high. In the other cases the alternative is tyranny and genocide, so I am not sure you can be anything but better off by being armed.

It is worth noting the vast majority of countries with gun control where genocide has not occurred, and remember that the best defence against tyranny and genocide are democracy and international law.

This is logically very weak. Genocide is fortunately very rare. A more useful measure would be what % of countries suffering from genocides of their own citizens had gun control, versus the % of countries that did not.

International law didn’t do much for the 67 Million + murdered in 20th century genocides. Democracy was not much help for the Jews when the Germans democratically elected the Nazi Party to power.

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Gun Control – Answering The Issues Raised 2

Thanks once again to @simonr916 for engaging in debate on this issue. I think we can both agree that the academic literature in this area is not clear cut, that those producing it are seldom impartial (on either side) and that quoting different gun research papers at each other is unlikely to move the debate forward in a way that would convince either side.

The first of the remaining issues is our disagreement about the correlation, or lack thereof, between the homicide rate and gun ownership data.

Perhaps the most obvious point that I have not previously made is that the burden of proof rests with those who wish to assert that there is a correlation and not the other way around. The base presumption must be that A & B are not correlated unless strong evidence is adduced that they are.

@Simon916 has two main arguments

1. The data that I used to demonstrate a lack of correlation is not good data
2. The fact that no correlation is demonstrated is invalid because of failure to control for other variables

I will address these points in turn:

Good Data

@Simon916 attacks the 2007 small arms survey as being an imperfect guide to cross national gun ownership levels. This is of course perfectly valid, there is no such thing as perfect data for cross national gun ownership.

However the Small Arms Survey, despite its flaws seems to me the best data we have:

” The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. It serves as the principal international source of public information on all aspects of small arms and armed violence and as a resource for governments, policy-makers, researchers, and activists”

It is widely quoted, by non-pro gun sources, such as the Guardian and the UN

If, arguento, this data is not robust enough and there is no better data, then there is no argument with which to refute the null hypothesis that there is no relationship between gun ownership levels and homicide rates.
In the absence of reliable contrary data we would retain the null hypothesis.

If @Simon916 (or anyone else) can point me to more robust data that does show a correlation, then I would of course have to re-examine my conclusions.

@Simon916 does not raise any specific concerns about the data for gun ownership across US states, which was based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The numbers as reported in the Washington Post can be seen here. I of course accept that this data is also not perfect, no form of survey data can be, but once again the best data I can find shows not the slightest hint of a correlation.

The burden of proof is not on those denying a correlation it is on those wishing to assert one. The alternative would be the same as somebody saying we should ban chocolate because it causes cancer and using as an argument the fact that there is no reliable data to prove that chocolate eating does not cause cancer!

Failure to Control For Other Variables

It is certainly important to control for other significant influencing variables when working out the scale of a relationship. The problem here is that how you define and select the controlling variables can have a significant influence on the outcome. If you have a political agenda in your research or are funded by a group with a political agenda it is possible to get data to say almost anything you want!

Controlling for other variables is most useful when you have a strong initial correlation between the two factors under investigation and there is a concern that your predictive variable may be overstated in importance because it is highly correlated with something that is already known to be predictive. (E.g. For homicide rates controlling for poverty seems to  significantly reduce the importance of inequality)

For there to be zero initial correlation between two variables and a significant correlation after  controlling for other variables would require a near perfect negative correlation between the predictive variable and the control variables, which seems a highly unlikely state of affairs!

If @Simon916 can point me to any papers in any, non-politicized, field where an initial zero correlation between two variables becomes significant after controlling for other variables then of course I would be prepared to reconsider my view on this point.

@Simon916 glosses over what I think is the strongest evidence for the lack of any significant correlation:

If Gun Ownership were a significant factor in homicide rates then scholars investigating the relationship of homicide to other things, such as poverty, would need to control for it in their research. These scholars probably have no political interest in the gun control debate and will only control for variables that have a real influence.

This paper from the British Journal of Criminology reviews 47 cross national studies of the relationship between poverty and homicides. Conveniently for our purposes it also lists the variables that the researchers controlled for in each study.

Not one of them controlled for gun ownership!

If scholars without a vested interest don’t regard gun ownership as a variable worth controlling for in their own field of research, I think it is safe to assume it is not important.

@Simon916 responds with:

My answer to this is that I don’t know and it would be difficult to reach any
meaningful conclusion without looking back at each of those reviews. Frankly, I don’t have the time or the inclination.

It may be that some or all of these reviews looked at a range of countries within a geographical area which happened to have similar gun laws, therefore rendering this issue pointless as a control. It may be that the bulk of these studies, which are from decades ago, pre-dated many of the gun laws and restrictions which have since been put in place. Given that the conclusion of the article is that nearly all of the studies failed to control for one of the most important factors – poverty – it may be that they also
missed another important one.”

This paper is a review of ALL the leading research in the area. A look at the paper shows that many of the papers cover over 100 countries, many were published in the 1990’s or 2000’s and they cover a mind boggling array of control variables, to list a sample from just one paper:

Drunken brawling
Military authority
Political authority
Political oppression
Population size
Typical settlement size
Wife beating
Change in moral codes
Change in trad. authority
Change in subsist. occup.
Population density
Judicial authority
Organizational complexity
Largest settlement size
Technological complexity

If the entire scholastic community in all its research into homicides and inequality do not consider it worth controlling for gun ownership then it simply cannot be significant.

If @Simon916 (or anyone else) can point me to research papers investigating homicide rates (not primarily related to gun ownership), that do control for gun ownership then of course that would weaken this point.

The rest of the points raised I think can be condensed into the fact that we agree, (from a utilitarian perspective if not a rights based one) that the issue boils down to deciding whether the additional murders caused by gun ownership are greater or smaller than the murders avoided by gun ownership.

On the additional murders  side of the equation we have:
The subset of criminals who commit murder who would not have substituted an alternative weapon for a firearm
A subset of previously lawful individuals (Such as school shooters) who would have decided not to committed murder by a substitute method without access to a firearm
The subset of criminals who kill with a firearm, who would not have carried a firearm if their potential victims were unarmed and would not have killed them by alternative means

On the murders avoided side of the equation we have:
Deaths avoided because an armed civilian prevented a crime that would have escalated to become a murder
Deaths avoided because potential criminals who would have committed murders in the course of their crimes decided a life of crime was too risky and did something else.

We have different views on the relative scale and importance of each element in each group. In most cases they are very difficult to measure and in many cases impossible.

The zero correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates both internationally and within US states in recent years would seem to indicate that the balance between these factors is, in reality, quite close.

A strong positive correlation would support the anti-gun lobby and a strong negative correlation would support the pro-gun lobby. Neither is apparent in the data.

However, there are two remaining factors that go against gun control.

  1. It is not enough that something has a neutral effect to ban it, even under utilitarian principles. A clear harm must be shown by those seeking the ban.
  2. The fundamental reason that the US constitution sought to allow citizens to own firearms was not to deter domestic criminals but to provide a deterrent to tyranny and state genocide.

The numbers killed in state genocides of an unarmed civilian population in the 20th century, dwarf, by orders of magnitude, the firearms murders in civilian cases.

In the USA in 2011 there were 8,583 firearms murders, compared to:

# 1915 – 1917 Ottoman Turkey, 1.5 million Armenians murdered;
# 1929 – 1953 Soviet Union, 20 million people that opposed Stalin were murdered;
# 1933 – 1945 Nazi occupied Europe, 13 million Jews, Gypsies and others;
# 1927 – 1949 China, 10 million pro communists;
# 1948 – 1952 China, 20 million anti communists;
# 1960 – 1981 Guatemala, 100,000 Mayan Indians Murdered;
# 1971 – 1979 Uganda, 300,000 Christians and Political Rivals of Idi Amin murdered;
# 1975 – 1979 Cambodia, 2 million educated persons murdered.
# 1994 Rwanda 800,000 Tutsi’s murdered.
# 1992 – 1995 Bonsia 200,000 Muslims murdered

If an armed citizenry would have prevented even the smallest of these genocides it would have saved more lives than a hundred years of US firearms murders.

The final issues and answers post

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Gun Control – Answering The Issues Raised

I would like to thank @simonr916 for raising some interesting challenges to my previous post on gun control.

To address the points raised:

“My main contention with your blog is your argument that there is no correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates. You take your analysis here from another blogger who gets their data from a range of sources including Wikipedia pages of disputed accuracy and pro-gun websites.”

If the data is wrong, then point out where it is wrong. It is not wrong simply because it appears in Wikipedia!

There are two sets of data presented in the blog:

International Data

In this case the data appearing in Wikepedia comes from very respected sources:

The primary sources for the Data On Intentional Homicide Rates By Country are the United Nations Global Study on Homicide and Homicide Statistics 2012.

The primary source for the Wikepedia data on Number of Guns per Capita is the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies“Small Arms Survey 2007″ and  Small Arms Survey 2007 Part 2

Neither of these sources are “of disputed accuracy”, nor are they “pro-gun websites”

USA State By State Data

The data on homicides and populations by state are sourced from the FBI Crime in the United States 2011

The data on gun ownership by state are sourced from, the primary source is the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The numbers as reported in the Washington Post can be seen here.

Neither of these sources are of disputed accuracy, nor are they “pro-gun websites”, although the pro-gun website did have the temerity to quote the report!

On this point, you are simply wrong, the data is from reputable sources.

“This analysis makes no attempt to adjust for socio-economic
factors such as population density, poverty and inequality, levels of
corruption within government and law enforcement etc.”

 Unless you have meaningful data any attempt to control for other variables is simply adding unproven assumptions and error under the guise of increasing accuracy. In relation to the factors you quote:

Population density – This is not uniform over a state or a country. One state could have x,000 people per square mile packed into three large cities, another state could have the same density but spread across many rural communities. A state wide population density is meaningless.

Poverty and inequality are also not uniform over a state or a country. Absolute poverty? Poverty relative to the median in the state? The median in the country?, the mean? Inequality, the same questions, compared to the state, the country, the ethnic group?

Corruption. Measured in what units and with what degree of accuracy.

Yes of course homicides are caused by a multitude of factors, but without at least some correlation between the two variables you are interested in there is nothing to investigate!

“This article from the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health (… looked at gun ownership and homicide rates and homicide across the US, made adjustments for socio-economic factors, and concludes that there is a correlation between gun ownership and homicide.”

The article includes no source data that can be examined, no regression equations and no indication of what or how other variables were corrected for. It does not use state level gun ownership data, but a metric it calls FS/S based on the ratio of suicides using guns to total suicides. Its comparison of arbitrary subsets of top and bottom data is not a valid statistical technique.

It is always possible to torture data into telling you whatever you want to hear by the use of undefined control variables, invalid assumptions and cherry picking elements of the data set.

As can be seen at the end of the paper, this research was funded by the anti-gun Joyce Foundation the anti-gun Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and George Soros’ anti-gun Open Society Institute, so your appeal to authority is even further undermined.

Your faith in peer review is touching but misplaced, as this shows.

“Summaries of other, scholarly articles with similar findings can be found here:……

I will not go through every paper, but I will point out that most of the articles on the second link are by the same researcher who carried out the anti-gun lobby funded research in the first article you quoted. By way of balance, I will also point out some alternative scholarly articles that support the analysis in my original blog post.

Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 

It is clear that torturing the data can make it confess to whatever the relevant paymaster, special interest group wants. Most researchers in the field have a view that they are trying to support. So it is very difficult to know who you can trust.

However, a little lateral thinking will enable us to get to the truth:

If Gun Ownership were a significant factor in homicide rates then scholars investigating the relationship of homicide to other things, such as poverty, would need to control for it in their research. These scholars probably have no political interest in the gun control debate and will only control for variables that have a real influence.

This paper from the British Journal of Criminology reviews 47 cross national studies of the relationship between poverty and homicides. Conveniently for our purposes it also lists the variables that the researchers controlled for in each study.

Not one of them controlled for gun ownership!

If scholars without a vested interest don’t regard gun ownership as a variable worth controlling for in their own field of research, I think it is safe to assume it is not important.


“This article shows that gun controls introduced in Australia in 1996 were followed by
accelerated declines in firearm deaths:…

Yet, this paper concludes the opposite, that it had no impact:

“You also make the argument that gun control will not prevent criminals from obtaining guns, and you draw a comparison with illegal drugs. However illegal guns are, almost without exception, legal guns that have become illegal either by being stolen from their lawful owner, by being transported across a border, or by a decommissioned weapon – sold as a replica – being re-commissioned.

As such, reducing the availability of legal weapons would have the result of decreasing the availability of illegal weapons. This reduced supply will not eradicate
availability altogether but would keep guns out of the hands of many criminals,
and would increase the cost to others.”

All drugs are illegal and still there is ample supply. I see no reason why making guns illegal would work any better than making drugs illegal. Certainly the existing supply of legal guns that suddenly become illegal would not disappear from existence and unless every country in the world made guns illegal there would be plenty of legal guns and replicas that could be imported.

“You argue availability of guns in the UK based upon a single newspaper article quoting ananonymous source ‘close to the trade in illegal weapons’. The reliability of this as evidence to support your case is highly debateable”

There is no register of illegal gun purchases and no hard data that I could find. However, the single newspaper article is certainly not alone in reaching that conclusion:

“but, in any case, it is unquestionably more difficult to obtain an illegal weapon in the UK than it is to walk into Wal-Mart and buy one in the US. Whilst it is likely that hardened criminals with the right connections will always be able to access weapons, controls limit their availability and ensure that, by doing so, they face the risk of prosecution and imprisonment even if they do not use the weapon.”

That is certainly true, but it ignores the defensive value of legal gun ownership. The criminals may be slightly hindered in their ability to acquire guns, but the law abiding victims would be totally prevented from doing so.

“In the case of school shootings, where the killer is usually an isolated and troubled
teenager, such controls are likely to put guns completely beyond their reach.”

For the tiny minority of cases where a law abiding citizen with no criminal connections decides to commit mass murder then it would certainly make it more difficult to use a gun. However, There is a global phenomena of mass murder using motor vehicles as the weapon these would still be available to the school killer intent on mass murder.

“Your argument that school killers’ motive is murder/suicide and so they may choose to use a bomb instead, makes an assumption as to the killers’ motives without evidence. Other possible motives may be the feelings of power and control they expect to
experience, seeing others in fear, the glamourisation of gun use and so on.”

Many motives are possible, they will probably be different in each case. However the actions usually involve the mass killing of school pupils followed by the death of the perpetrator. Such actions can also be (and have been) carried out via  homemade explosives or using a motor vehicle,  and it is pure speculation that only the use of guns would satisfy the motivations.

“Following the Dunblane massacre in 1996, gun laws in the UK were tightened. There have been no mass school shootings in the UK since, and – notably – no school bombings either.”

That is a very weak argument, Dunblane is the only mass school shooting I can find in the UK. In the many decades from the invention of the first fire-arm up to to the ban in 1996 there was 1 incident. In the 16 years since there have been none. There were tens of 16 year periods without incident before the ban. If would require hundreds, possibly thousands more years without incident, before any valid conclusion could be drawn.

“You go on to argue that gun ownership provides protection against violence. This ignores statistical evidence that guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in accidental or criminal shootings than self defence – and more likely still to be used in
the suicide of the gun owner or another family member (….”

The paper deals only with guns that were fired. It says that for each time a gun was fired in self defence there were four unintentional shootings and seven criminal assaults or homicides.

What it fails to include are all the times a burgler, mugger or would be rapist was scared off by a victim showing a gun that didn’t need to be fired. Only in the, presumably quite rare, event of the assailant continuing their attack once the gun was produced would the gun need to be fired.

For some papers that look at the whole picture and conclude that significant self defence usage and value is provided, refer to:

Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995.

St. Louis University Public Law Review

And yes, some criminals may be discouraged from some crimes if they believe the intended victim may be armed. It seems likely that they will simply move onto another target instead.”

In a society with a culture of gun ownership, who do they move on to? Each potential target could be armed and capable of defending themselves.

“Equally, it may be that fear of an armed victim may encourage a
criminal to carry a gun or use a greater level of violence than would otherwise
be the case.”

Not every burglar, mugger or rapist is happy with moving up to the status of murderer. Just as likely they would decide that the payoffs from a life of crime had changed and perhaps some other form of occupation would become more attractive.

Some interesting challenges from @simonr916 but nothing that causes me to change my position

More issues raised and answered

Posted in General Principles | 7 Comments

Gun Control – An Unemotional Analysis


The first thing to make clear is that a ban on guns is not a ban from existence, it will not automatically make guns disappear from society. (This should be an obvious and trivial point, but some of the arguments used in favour of gun control rely implicitly or explicitly on assuming the ban eliminates guns!)

A ban on guns is simply a legal device that makes the owning of guns a crime.

The effectiveness of legal bans is not 100%. e.g.

There is already a ban on the shooting of innocent people with guns.
Its called murder and has always been a serious crime.

However, this has not stopped innocent people being shot. Indeed every person murdered with a gun,  was murdered… despite the ban on shooting innocent people!

Of course, not being 100% effective does not mean that making gun ownership illegal would have no effect.

I can see two effects.

1.  Criminals wouldn’t be able to buy guns legally, making it  more difficult for them

2. Law abiding citizens would no longer own guns

The Impact on Criminals of Making Gun Ownership Illegal

If gun ownership were made illegal, the difficulty of acquiring illegal guns by criminals would probably not be very high.

Drugs have been illegal for a long time and yet they are available in every city for anyone who wants to buy them.

In the UK, which has strong gun control and no widespread culture of gun ownership, it is still very easy for criminals to acquire guns.

Even without gun control in the USA, only 20% of convicted felons purchased their firearms through a licensed fire arms dealer, 80% preferring the black market.
(Armed & Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons & Their Firearms  – Aldine de Gruyter – 1986)

However, it must be acknowledged that banning guns, would have some relatively small effect in reducing criminal gun ownership.

The pro gun control argument  runs: “Well if just 100 criminals who would have murdered somebody with a gun, no longer have access to a gun then we have saved 100 lives.”

This argument commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent

The confusion here is that if  A wants to Murder  B and he doesn’t have a gun, he may still murder Mr B….with a knife, with a baseball bat, hitting him with a car, or in any one of a multitude of other ways.

Guns may be the most convenient tool for the would be murderer (and lack of convenience may stop some murders).  But certainly if you hate someone enough to murder them a little inconvenience is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

Currently 68% of all homicides in the USA involve firearms:
(The claim by the pro gun lobby that more people are killed by baseball bats than guns is an urban myth)

FBI Homicide Data
Murder Victims
by Weapon – 2011
Weapons 2011 Percentage
Total 12,664 100%
Total firearms: 8,583 68%
Handguns 6,220 49%
Rifles 323 3%
Shotguns 356 3%
Other guns 97 1%
Firearms, type not stated 1,587 13%
Knives or cutting instruments 1,694 13%
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.) 496 4%
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)1 728 6%
Poison 5 0%
Explosives 12 0%
Fire 75 1%
Narcotics 29 0%
Drowning 15 0%
Strangulation 85 1%
Asphyxiation 89 1%
Other weapons or weapons not stated 853 7%
1 Pushed is included in personal weapons.  

But, a criminal, intent on murder without access to a gun, clearly has a variety of alternative options for killing his victim.

Empirically, you can analyse gun ownership rates against against homicide rates for different countries to see if higher gun ownership leads to more murders, or if a reduction in gun ownership simply substitutes other methods of murder.

A positive correlation would indicate that higher availability of guns increases the homicide rate.

When you actually  look at the data there is no statistically significant correlation. On a worldwide level, the relationship is actually negative, for the OECD excluding outliers it is also negative. (If you include the USA and Mexico outliers, you get an insignificant positive correlation. If you don’t understand why its correct to exclude these outliers, then your statistics needs a brush up, for a start you should read this!)

Taking a look at the USA specifically, comparing the  state data for homicides with the state by state gun ownership statistics shows no statistically significant correlation either.


For the Statisticians the adjusted R squared is 0.0%!

For the non statisticians, this means that there is absolutely no relationship between the two.

It seems clear to me that both logically and empirically, the impact of banning guns on reducing criminal homicides would be negligible.

Even the argument that banning assault rifles would stop school killings doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In most of these cases the killer ends his shooting spree by turning the gun on himself or being shot by the police. It is essentially a suicide mission.

What is to stop the would be killer, without access to such firearms, from becoming a suicide bomber instead, killing as many or more than with an assault rifle but using a few pounds of fertilizer and some home electronics ?

So, moving on to…

 The removal of guns from law abiding citizens

The most obvious and visible benefit of removing guns from law abiding citizens would be the elimination of accidental deaths through firearms accidents.

However, as Steven Levitt pointed out in Freakonomics (p149) the risk of firearms accidents very low. The chance of a child drowning in a house with a residential swimming pool is 1/11,000. The chance of a child being killed by a gun in a house with firearms is 1/1,000,000. (i.e. Swimming pool ownership is 100 times more dangerous than firearm ownership!)

If you want to ban fire-arms because they are too risky for private individuals to own, then to be consistent you would also need to ban swimming pools, cars, knives, bicycles, ladders and lots of other fairly innocuous household objects which are far more risky.

The pro gun control argument then runs: “But if even 100 people where saved from accidents then it would surely be worthwhile. People don’t need guns, they do need cars, ladders, etc”

This line of reasoning suffers from the Broken Window Fallacy, which is to take into account only the superficial and clearly observable effects and ignore significant less obvious effects.

The gun control side of the argument point to the clearly quantifiable deaths caused by gun accidents. They ignore from their calculations all the lives saved because a potential victim was armed when encountering a potentially violent criminal, or the crimes avoided because the criminal feared the potential victim might be armed.

It is analogous to saying that surgery kills thousands of people every year.

That is true, but it is certainly not the whole story, millions of people are also saved from death each year by surgery.

We can only decide if surgery, or gun ownership by law abiding citizens, is a good or bad thing by looking at both sides of the equation, the lives saved as well as the lives lost.

In the case of deaths avoided because law abiding home owners had guns, it is difficult to quantify, but:

A 1982 survey of male felons in 11 state prisons dispersed across the U.S. found:

• 34% had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim”

• 40% had decided not to commit a crime because they “knew or believed that the victim was carrying a gun”

• 69% personally knew other criminals who had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim

Clearly the deterrent effect on criminals of law abiding home owners being armed, or having the potential to be armed, has a significant effect in preventing both crimes in action and reducing the number of attempted crimes.

The other difficult to quantify benefit of gun ownership is perhaps the most important from a libertarian point of view.

It is the one that was in the minds of the US founding fathers when they drafted the second amendment to the US constitution, which gives US citizens the right to bear arms:

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
― Thomas Jefferson

 In 2002, the JPFO published a list of genocides in the 20th century that have occurred in countries with gun control.

# 1915 – 1917 Ottoman Turkey, 1.5 million Armenians murdered;
# 1929 – 1953 Soviet Union, 20 million people that opposed Stalin were murdered;
# 1933 – 1945 Nazi occupied Europe, 13 million Jews, Gypsies and others;
# 1927 – 1949 China, 10 million pro communists;
# 1948 – 1952 China, 20 million anti communists;
# 1960 – 1981 Guatemala, 100,000 Mayan Indians Murdered;
# 1971 – 1979 Uganda, 300,000 Christians and Political Rivals of Idi Amin murdered;
# 1975 – 1979 Cambodia, 2 million educated persons murdered.
# 1994 Rwanda 800,000 Tutsi’s murdered.
# 1992 – 1995 Bonsia 200,000 Muslims murdered.

Of course there could never be oppression of the people by the state in the 21st century, just ask the residents of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, North Korea…..

The American constitution did not envisage an impeding tyrannical US government, but it was drafted to protect the citizens from the possibility of one.

So far at least, it has worked:

The beauty of the Second Amendment is that
it will not be needed until they try to take it.”
― Thomas Jefferson


On the negative side:

Gun control would not stop criminals from killing people either with easily obtainable illegal guns, or with legal substitutes such as knives, bats, etc.

Gun control would disarm law abiding home owners, making them more vulnerable to attacks on person and property by the armed criminals.

Gun control would open the door to the potential of future state oppression.

On the positive side:

Gun control would prevent a small number of firearms accidents, the risk of which is less than drowning in a swimming pool or falling off a ladder.

If you can think about the issues logically, rather than being swept along by, a natural, emotional response to the most recent tragedy, the conclusion seems obvious.

Answers to Objections Raised


Posted in General Principles | 13 Comments

Abortion – Does The Foetus Have a Right To Life?

imageThis is a complex area for everyone, but particularly for libertarians who are by definition both pro-life and pro-choice and whose fundamental moral keystone is the principle of non-aggression.

The first step in thinking clearly about the issue is to clarify the meanings of the terms used, particularly “human life”. It is very easy to fall into the logical fallacy of equivocation when using the term “human life”, e.g.

It is clear that both the sperm and the egg are genetically human and that they are both alive in a biological sense. However this is not what we mean by “human life” in a moral sense. If it were then male masturbation would be genocide and female menstruation would be murder. It is also clear that the appendix is genetically human and alive, but nobody argues for a ban on appendectomies to protect the “human life” of the appendix.

There are two meanings of “human life” that are easily confused, the first meaning illustrated with the examples above refers to genetically human life and is a biological use  rather than a moral one.

The second meaning of “human life” is membership of the class of beings to whom we owe moral obligations. This second meaning is the ethically and morally relevant one that we are referring to when we say it is wrong to take a “human life”.

We would presumably consider it equally wrong to kill an intelligent alien visitor without good cause, regardless of the non human nature of his DNA.

So what do we mean by “human life” in the ethical/moral sense

Philosophers debate at length the characteristics required to be members of the moral community and become entitled to the rights associated with it. e.g.

Mary Warren’s list of characteristics:

1. Consciousness (of objects and events external and/or internal to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain;

2. Reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems);

3. Self-motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of genetic or direct external control).

4. The capacity to communicate, messages of with an indefinite number of possible contents on indefinitely many possible topics.

5. The presence of self-concepts and self-awareness.

However, there is an obvious criticism that the criteria listed are derived by observing the properties of a class of entities that are deemed to belong to the moral community and since this class excludes foetuses the argument carries no more weight than a simple assertion that foetuses are not members of the moral community.

Another problem with such criteria is that they not only conclude, inevitably, that a foetus has no right to life, they also entail the conclusion that a new born infant or a mentally disabled adult and many animals have no right to life either. A conclusion that offends our moral intuition.

Fortunately, we can avoid getting drawn into the complex philosophical debates about what constitutes “human life” in a moral sense by looking at the problem from the opposite end, where emotions do not cloud reason so much, that of human death.

If a fully functioning human being, with all the rights associated with that status, is involved in an accident they can be kept in a state of biological life via medical machinery almost indefinitely. However, it is generally accepted that if there is no cerebral brain wave activity then there is no “human life” in the moral sense. Turning off the life support machines is not murder but simply the deactivation of biological processes sustained by external means.

If this were not the case then it would be necessary to keep the corpses of everyone who “died” in hospital on life support machines forever or be guilty of murder!

Having established that human life,in the moral sense, requires cerebral brain wave activity the question becomes much simpler, when does the foetus develop the sort of cerebral brain wave activity that indicates human life?

This is a question of biology, rather and philosophy and it appears in the foetus between twenty four weeks and thirty weeks of conception.
(Pro-life claims of earlier activity appear to be scientifically invalid.)

A foetus younger than this is not a human life in the ethical sense and can have no more right to life than the body kept warm on a life support machine. The woman having an abortion is no more guilty of murder than the doctor who turns off the life support machine of a brain dead accident victim.

It is tempting if you currently hold anti-abortion views at this point to revert to the potential for human life argument and try to distinguish the case of the dead man on the life support machine. After all he has no potential for life, whereas the foetus has potential for a full human life.

However, we have already refuted the argument for rights for biological entities with the potential for human life on the grounds it would make menstruation murder and masturbation genocide. With advances in biological science even non embyonic  cells now have the potential for human life. Can we seriously consider cutting nails or hair as murder!

To conclude, a foetus up to 24 weeks is not a “human life” in the moral sense, it is a  genetically human biological entity with the potential for “human life”, but such an entity has no right to life.

Abortion of a foetus up to 24 weeks does not involve the violation of any human rights and libertarians should support the woman’s right of self ownership to abort a foetus if she wishes to.

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