A Gun In Every Stocking

Many people believe that government should have a monopoly of force.  By "monopoly of force," they mean that private citizens should never use force themselves, but should rely on government employees such as policemen and soldiers to protect them from violence.  This is the basic idea behind gun control laws - taking guns away from ordinary citizens helps the government maintain its monopoly of force.

The trouble is that our government is an ineffective, incompetent monopolist when it comes to domestic force.  Except for the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center, our military has protected us against foreign attacks on our own soil since the war of 1812, but America has the highest rates of murder and violent crimes such as assault, muggings, and rape in the world.  For all it's unequaled skill in protecting us from foreign enemies, our government appears to be utterly incompetent at protecting us from domestic enemies.

There was a day when Americans protected themselves instead of relying on government for protection.  According to Violence in America, Volume 1: The History of Crime, edited by Robert Gurr, the homicide rate was high in mining towns in the American West in the 1880s, but most such deaths occurred between willing combatants.  Unarmed noncombatants, in contrast, were quite safe:

Thus, in Aurora and Bodie, the old, the young, the unwilling, the weak, and the female were, for the most part, safe from harm.  If, as many popularly assume, much of America's crime problem is a consequence of a heritage of frontier violence and lawlessness, then it is ironic that the crimes most common today - robbery, burglar, theft, and rape - were of no great significance and, in the case of rape, seemingly nonexistent in Aurora and Bodie. [emphasis added]

The book goes on to say that such low crime rates were due to armed people who were ready to defend themselves:

Occasionally the stagecoaches carried bullion shipments to the outside world.  These shipments were often of great value: some of them would be worth $5 or $10 million in today's dollars.  Yet, not one of the bullion stages was ever attacked by highwaymen. The reason is obvious. The bullion stages, unlike the regular stages, were always guarded by two or three or more rifle- and shotgun-toting guards.  Highwaymen preferred to prey on unguarded coaches, take whatever was in the express box, and escape with their health intact.  Only once did highwaymen and guards exchange gunfire - a highwayman was killed and a guard wounded - and in that case the highwaymen had not expected to encounter any guards.

Individual private citizens in Bodie and Aurora very rarely suffered from robbery.  There were only ten robberies and three attempted robberies of individuals - other than those robbed as part of a stage holdup - in Bodie during its boom years, and there seem to have been even fewer in Aurora during its heyday.  In nearly every one of these robberies the circumstances were so similar as to be interchangeable: The robbery victim had spent the evening in a gambling den, saloon, or brothel; he had revealed in some way that he had on his person a tidy sum of money; and he was drunk, staggering toward home late at night when the attack occurred.

More robberies might have occurred if Aurorans and Bodieites had not gone about armed and ready to fight.  They were, unless staggering drunk, simply too dangerous to rob.  Robbers occasionally made mistakes though.  Late one night when a robber told miner C.F. Reid to throw up his hands, Reid said "all right" and began raising them.  As he did so he suddenly drew a foot-long bowie knife from an inside coat pocket and drove the steel blade into the robber's shoulder.  The robber screamed with pain and took off running "like a deer." Reid gave chase but soon lost sight of the man.  Nonetheless, Reid was satisfied, feeling certain he had "cut the man to the bone."  Sober armed men were not to be trifled with.

The book doesn't have much confidence in reducing crime by having police apprehend the miscreants for incarceration after the fact:

Fear of arrest could not have served as much of a deterrent to stage robbery.  Only three road agents were ever apprehended, and just two of them were convicted of robbery.

The situation is exactly the same today; armed citizens deter more crime than police do.  On p. A13 of the November 23 issue of the Wall Street Journal, an article "Second Amendment Showdown" discussed the ban on private handguns which Washington, DC instituted in 1976:

Crime rose significantly after the gun ban went into effect.  In the five years before the 1976 ban, the murder rate fell to 27 from 37 per 100,000.  In the five years after it went into effect, the murder rate rose to 35.

As goes Bodie, so goes DC.  The secret of safety was and is crime prevention, not crime investigation.  Our courts recognize this.  Over and over, American courts have ruled that the police have no obligation at all to protect anyone from crime, all they're required to do is to try to clean up the mess afterward.

We see the same sort scenario of people having to protect themselves playing out in the Internet.  Our government can't protect people from cyber crime - criminals can operate from places where there's no law at all.  Although home-grown justice may be somewhat crude as reported in this article, it's better than no justice at all.

As in the Wild West and in Washington DC, the only viable solution is crime prevention, not crime investigation.  It's not clear that governments will ever be able to protect people from internet crime or go after perpetrators when crimes occur.  Let's hope that, having been burned once by relying on government for safety, we don't let government take over the Internet.

Benjamin Franklin said that people who give up liberty in pursuit of safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.  Unfortunately, our ancestors gave up their liberty to carry weapons to defend themselves in return for government promises to keep them safe.  Just as the rate of literacy declined when government employees took responsibility for education away from parents in the 1880's, our personal safety has declined ever since government employees took crime prevention away from us.  The book compares Bodie's crime rates during the height of gold fever with current crime rates in America:

Bodie, even with its stagecoach robberies included, had a robbery rate just slightly more than one-third of the national rate in 1986 and only a tiny fraction of the rates of the major cities.

In giving up our liberty to defend ourselves, we've subjected ourselves to three times the rate of violent crime of Bodie during the gold rush.  Government may be competent to defend us from foreigners, but it can't make us safe from our neighbors.  This is particularly ironic given that George Washington said that government is nothing but force, and makes a dangerous servant and a fearful master.  We've noted elsewhere that governments kill far more of their own citizens than foreign enemies do.  If they're so good at killing, why won't government cut the crime rate by killing murderers?  Capital punishment works in China, why won't our government use it?

It's become a political issue.  You'll hear people say that killing murderers doesn't keep other people from murdering, "how can we kill to show that killing is wrong?" People who're opposed to capital punishment say that if you keep a murderer in jail for life, he won't kill, and his being executed does not stop others from murdering.

There are two things wrong with this idea:

First, in the American justice system, most murderers eventually get out of jail.  It's partly because prisons are crowded, it's partly because liberals like to think that they can reform a murderer while he's in prison, and let him out when he's no longer a "danger to society."  This doesn't work; many murderers who are let out, quickly murder again.  No matter what they say, you cannot trust government to keep murderers in jail for life.

Second, executions do reduce the number of murders.  On November 2, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on page A13 that "Capital Punishment Works."  The data in the article were analyzed by Michael Summers, professor of quantitative analysis at Pepperdine University.  He teaches courses in how to look at numbers and figure out what they mean.  In acadamia, this is called "quantitative analysis".

Using numbers about murders and executions obtained from the FBI, he showed that the number of murders dropped after capital punishment was reintroduced in the early 1980s.  Executions increased in the 1990s and the number of murders dropped more.  Executions decreased since 2001 and the number of murders increased.

His study suggests that each execution results in about 74 fewer murders the next year - that is, each execution saves 74 lives. He argues that executions do make people think before committing murder.  People seem to be worried more about being executed than about spending life in prison.  Criminals can think about consequences as well as you and I can; they know that "life imprisonment" isn't always for life, but there's no coming back from a trip to the electric chair.

Capital punishment reduces crime.  Older folks will remember that after Mr. Goetz put some slugs into four young men who tried to mug him in the subway, subway crime was down for six months.  Criminals, like politicians, prefer unarmed victims.  It doesn't take many criminals being blown away for potential bad guys to decide it just isn't worth it.

Mr. Goetz didn't administer capital punishment; he wasn't a very good shot, so nobody died when he defended himself from attack.  The reason crime dropped so much after he defended himself was that his resistance was unpredictable and came swiftly.  When they occur, government-sponsored executions take forever.  Statistically speaking, people on death row are less likely to die there than if they were back in their own neighborhoods.

Mr. Goetz's self-defense reduced crime for six months.  Incompetently-administered government capital punishment saves 74 lives per execution.  How many more lives would be saved if capital punishment were less subject to lawyers fiddling around?

History shows that our government is far too incompetent to be trusted with a force monopoly.  Armed citizens are far more effective at protecting themselves than government employees, but that's a mere fact.  Since when have facts had anything to do with how our government operates?

Fortunately, many Americans are very much in favor of self-defense.  At a recent auction, people paid huge sums for firearms owned by famous gunmen and women.  The Supreme Court is about to consider a court ruling which set aside a law banning private ownership of firearms in Washington DC.

Who knows?  Parents are in effect firing incompetent schools and teaching children themselves, maybe we'll lose faith in incompetent police departments and protect ourselves.  After all, there can never be enough cops to protect us from terrorists who can strike anywhere at any time.  If the terrorist threat isn't enough reason for us to be ready to protect ourselves, it's difficult to imagine what would be.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Coulter had a piece awhile back about removing all TSA checkpoints at airports, and putting armed marshalls on every flight.  Also, encouraging anyone with a concealed weapons permit or previous military experience to carry.  Maybe a 10% discount on your ticket if you show your handgun?

November 27, 2007 9:56 AM

Coiulter is right, but the problem with her solution is that it would work.  TSA is ineffective because a) the bad guys bought good IDs from motor vehicle departments and b) checkers miss about 70% of the fake bombs, etc., that go through the system. TSA is ineffective, but it generates lots of jobs.

Concealed carry would work - no right-minded terrorists would try to grab a plane that might have armed people aboard - but bureaucrats don't want the problem solved because their budget would go away.

There's no budget in solving the problem, there's always more budget if you can make the problem seem worse.

November 27, 2007 11:28 AM

Stupid government with their stupid budgets

November 27, 2007 11:34 AM

I live in a county in N.C. where if a crime is committed it might on a lucky day take 20 minutes for law enforcement to show up. On a weekend day your lucky to see someone in 45 minutes plus. The legal profession has made it almost impossible for the police and other law personnel to carry out successful crime prevention. Now we have only Law Enforcement after the fact.

November 27, 2007 1:17 PM

"Maybe a 10% discount on your ticket if you show your handgun?"

That's actually a BRILLIANT idea.  Why not?  The more guns on the flight, the safer it is and less likely for someone to act the fool.

And for all those naysayers who say it would cost a ton of money, how big is the current TSA budget?  In the billions I would think.

So the government actively incentives people to protect themselves.  This is a really profound direction to head in.

November 27, 2007 1:53 PM

twibi's heart is in the right place, but I don't need incentives from the government to protect myself.     All I need is for them to get out of the way and let me do it.

That is the approach the home schoolers took.  The educrats freaked when parents started teaching their own kids because they knew they'd lose budget.  They tried to make home schooling illegal to keep theri customers, but the home schoolers fought back.  Now that it's leagal, people are catching on to th efact that it works better.

The same thing will happen if we're able to get back to protecting ourselves - it will work better and the bureaucrats will freak.  For now, it is illegal to protect ourselves and the establishment wants it that way.

November 27, 2007 4:56 PM

Speaking of gun control...  Sean Taylor , the star safety for the Wasington Redskins,was shot by an armed burglar in a uber-rich suburb of Miami on Monday.  He died this morning.  

I have to wonder how gun control would have stopped this random murder?  

While I agree that being "locked anbd loaded" might make us all feel safe, how much safer are we really?

November 27, 2007 8:49 PM

With reference to Mr. Waldschmidt's comment, there is a town in the south which requires that every house have a weapon.  The burglary rate is very low there, but the media won't admit that guns have anything to do with it.  

When Lo-Jak started selling radios which called the cops when expensive cars were stolen, the word got around when 1% of the cars in wealthy neighborhoods were equipped.

instead of becoming the "gunshine state" when Florida adopted a concealed carry permit system, violent crime went down.

Gun control has never stopped crime - criminals can buy guns very easily.  Virginia tech was a "gun free zone" in that it was against the law for a licensed gun owner to bring a gun on campus.  When the shooter started shooting, nobody could shoot back.

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns.

Sean Taylor had gotten in trouble for waving a gun around when he thought some kids were going to steal his vehicle.  He had a gun at one time, but didn't use a gun in this case as far as the news reports say.  For all we know, the courts had taken away his gun.  If that's what happened, he's another victim of gun control laws.

We don't know the details.  We don't know how the burglar got in - did he have an alarm system?  Was his door locked?  Or did he just walk in?

We don't know whether he still had is gun or not.  But one thing we do know - the media will never admit to how many people are killed because the government won't let them carry guns.  Everybody except the first one or two who died at Virginia Tech was a victim of gun control laws.

People talk about crime in the inner cities.  The largest victim group is single women who live in housing projects.  If the NRA went in there and armed 1% or 2% of the women, crime would go down.  They don't need big guns, a 22 caliber bullet in a man means he MUST visit the hospital or he will die of gangrene.  Arming a few percent of the women would reduce violent crime a lot.  If the chattering classes really wanted to do something about crime, they'd arm the women.  The NRA would supply the instructors and the guns FOR FREE, I bet.

November 27, 2007 9:58 PM

Good article.

November 28, 2007 1:37 AM

Therer really isn't any better phrase than the old, original one --> Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

November 28, 2007 7:39 AM

I'm not sure that Sean Taylor's death was a random murder.  This is getting off topic a bit but there's more evidence to suggest that the murder was an organized hit than that it was a smash-and-grab job.

November 28, 2007 7:47 AM

No amount of gun ownership can protect you from a contract hit.  President Kennedy was protected by the Secret Service, yet a lone, dedicated, communist was able to kill him.  

Mr. Kennedy had supported the Bay of Pigs invasion, wouldn't let Cuba have nuclear weapons, and was trying to have the CIA assassinate Fidel Castro.  This offended Mr. Oswald who believed that communism was the wave of the future.  He shot Mr. Kennedy to protect his idol, Mr. Castro.

This article


explains that America let the liberals interpret Mr. Kennedy as a martyr to the civil rights struggle rather than accept the correct interpretation of his being a casualty of the cold war.  Given the feelings invoked by his assassination, assigning his death to civil rights has poisoned American polity for years.

Government not only doesn't deserve the right to claim a monopoly on violence, it doesn't deserve its monopoly on so much information either.

November 28, 2007 10:56 PM

I've heard that in some towns I think in Sweden, violent crimes are almost non-existent. Why is this? Firstly, there is mandatory military service in many European nations. Secondly, almost every household has a gun. Combine guns with people who know how to use them, and no one wants to try attacking anyone else. It makes sense. Honestly, balance a misdemeanor home invasion/robbery against the chance of taking a bullet. Most people would consider their own safety before getting their hands on someone else's jewels.

The Founding Fathers included the "Right to bear arms" in the Bill of Rights for a reason.

November 29, 2007 1:23 PM

"An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not

overcome by fleeing from it."

Jeff Cooper

December 24, 2007 11:24 AM

reports on Kennesaw, Ga.

The town north of Atlanta had little prominence until it passed a gun ordinance in 1982 that required all heads of a household to own a firearm and ammunition.

The Kennesaw law has endured as the town's population has swelled to about 30,000 from 5,000 in 1982.

"When the law was passed in 1982 there was a substantial drop in crime ... and we have maintained a really low crime rate since then," said police Lt. Craig Graydon. "We are sure it is one of the lowest (crime) towns in the metro area.

Residents say they are comfortable with the image the gun law projects on the city as a bastion of gun freedom.
July 31, 2008 1:18 PM
Wilson Quarterly Spring 2008 p 102 says:

One Benheim [a concentration camp] survivor tells about a woman from Holland she'd met recently who had hidden Jews during the war: "One day someone knocked on her door - it was either the Dutch police or a Nazi - and demanded that she hand over the Jews. She offered him a cop of coffee and while he drank, she got a gun and killed him." An undertaker friend stowed the body in a coffin with another corpse.

The right to keep and bear arms has its most common utility in fighting crime, but its purpose was to fight oppressive government.
January 15, 2009 4:29 PM

Remove african Americans, and the USA plummets to one of the most peaceful nations in the world. It’s the culture, not the color!

September 21, 2020 6:43 PM
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