Friday, April 27, 2007

Single-Entry Bookkeeping

The Economist magazine has joined most everyone else in at least partly blaming the Virginia Tech massacre on easy access to guns: "Had powerful guns not been available to him, the deranged Cho [Seung-hui] would have killed fewer people, and perhaps none at all." That sentiment is typical.

But it's flawed. If Cho had been unable to obtain handguns (doubtful given black-market sources), he might have bought shotguns and a hacksaw and produced far-more deadly sawed-off shotguns. Or he might have gone the Timothy McVeigh route and rigged up a bomb.

But let's assume Cho was not as determined to kill lots of people as he seems to have been. Let's say he could do no better than a knife or his fists. Let's say he was unable to kill anyone because guns were not easily available. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a trail of dead bodies nonetheless.

Why? Because each year far more than 32 people save their own or other innocent lives with handguns. (See this.) So while the VT students might still be alive, many others might be dead who today are not.

I am not weighing one life against another, or saying that X lives are not as valuable as 2X lives. I am saying that when one does accounting, one should count everything.


Anonymous said...

I get the Economist and read the editorial you're refering to. The editorial came just a few pages after all the current event blurbs which described (going by martini-hazed memory here) gun battles between between gangs and police in Brazil, and the shooting death of a mayor in Japan. Both countries with strict firearm laws.

You can't make this stuff up.


Mupetblast said...

There are too many internal sources of gun manufacturing as well as very porous borders in the US. If we were Denmark, an almost totalitarian level of gun control would PROBABLY work, albeit with a strengthening of the government apparatus. (See Singapore's efforts to curb drug use; it works, but only at the cost of corporal punishment and a complete ban on the marginal benefits of some modicum of hedonism.)

Thus it's not only against libertarian ethics but downright impractical to take any action against the distribution of guns that would have any actual success.