December 4, 2012


Guns, Perps, & Cits

Every time that there is a shooting someone will denounce America's gun culture. I went into a casino in London, and struck up a conversation with a lady at the roulette wheel. Something was said about politics, and I described myself as a bitter clinger, someone who was clinging to religion and guns. The lady said she didn't like guns at all.* Now this is strange, because the reality is that where there are more guns, there is less crime. Why is this?

*This sounds more glamorous than it really was. The casino was practically deserted, the lady was playing a system of some sort, which is guaranteed to lose you money, and I placed a £5 bet, lost, looked at the other tables, which were empty, and walked out.

Imagine a society that is divided into two classes, citizens and perps.

Scenario 1

  1. Citizens, or cits* for short, are unarmed, and obey the law.
  2. There are more cits than perps. This will be the case through all the scenarios.
  3. Perps are unarmed, and do not obey the law.
There are no dead cits and no dead perps from guns.

*Cit is cited in the OED as archaic for citizen. It's usage dates back to the 1640s. In the period 1640 to 1880 it was used more or less contemptuously to refer to townspeople as opposed to gentlemen. I'm using it more or less humorously.

Now this is the ideal situation, but in a world in which guns exist it is inherently unstable because the perps will seek to gain a competitive advantage over the cits. So they will seek and obtain guns.

Scenario 2

  1. Citizens are unarmed, and obey the law.
  2. Perps are armed, and do not obey the law.
Now this means that there will be dead cits, but no dead perps. This is not a satisfactory situation for the cits. So the cits agitate for the repeal of the prohibition against guns.

Scenario 3

  1. Some citizens are unarmed, and do not defend themselves.
  2. Some citizens are armed, and defend themselves.
  3. Perps are armed, and do not obey the law.
The result is that you have both dead cits and dead perps, which is better than having dead cits and no dead perps, but still not great. However, as the number of armed citizens grows the probability that the perp will encounter an armed cit grows, so the number of crimes perpetrated by the perps falls.

Some time after the Second World War S. L. A. Marshall published a study that said that 25% of the infantry soldiers in combat actually fired their weapons. The study was controversial then, and is controversial now, but suppose that it's true. If you have a perp confronting a crowd of cits then for every 4 armed cits there will be 1 person willing to fire. In a crowd of 100 armed people there will be 25 people willing to fire. Now suppose those 100 people are in a movie theater, and a perp comes in determined to kill people. Upon being confronted with 25 armed people he will either change his mind, or be dead. If the people are unarmed, he will be able to kill at will.

If the percentage given by Marshall is too low, then the probability of adverse action regarding the perp becomes higher. Since the perps operate in order to gain a competitive advantage and for the most part wish to survive encounters with the cits they will choose less threatening means of obtaining their loot.

Now suppose that a perp decides that he wants to shoot up a college campus, and the campus is a gun free zone. Then, as in the movie theater, he is free to wander at will, and to kill as he goes. On the other hand, if the campus is one where guns are freely carried, then as soon as he meets armed opposition, he will be killed. Result, fewer dead students, and a dead perp.

But, you say, society isn't like that, we also have cops. So imagine a society in which there are cits, perps, and cops. Scenario 4

  1. There are more citizens than perps and cops combined.
  2. There are more perps than cops.
  3. Citizens are unarmed, and obey the law.
  4. Perps are unarmed, and do not obey the law.
  5. Cops are armed, and obey and enforce the law.
  6. Cops enforce the law, and appear subsequent to, or, rarely, contemporaneously to the criminal event.
Now leaving aside the possibility that cops will be used for political repression, what are the likely possibilities?

  1. Cops who arrive after the event can only investigate the crime. So you've got dead cits. These will be dead from gun causes.
  2. Cops who are at the scene while the event is ongoing may stop the crime, but at the risk of injuring the cits. So you risk having dead cits and dead perps.
Neither of these possibilities is desirable. Nor are they necessarily stable.

Both perps and cits will seek to arm themselves. Since the number of cits outnumbers the number of perps, and given that the citizen will be present when the crime is committed by the perp, his response time will be less than that of the cops. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, “When seconds count, they're minutes away.” As the number of armed citizen rises, along with the number willing to fire, the number of dead cits will fall, and the number of dead perps will rise. Since the perps are rational, they will seek other ways to raise money.

Suppose the cops are used for political repression, or are corrupt? In that case you can expect the perps to move into the ranks of the cops to maximize their competitive advantage. As cops they are able to extort and terrorize at will, and to get away with it under cover of law. At this point it is in the interests of the cits to arm themselves and to resist the predators.

What if it is possible for citizens to become perps? Given that not all citizens will simultaneously change into perps there will always be more cits than perps, so the citizen who becomes a perp and decides to go postal, or decides that he'll follow Shakespeare's advice and kill all the lawyers, will encounter armed resistance. So even if some percentage of citizens suddenly change into perps they will encounter resistance.

Oddly enough it appears that it is rational to expect less crime the greater the probability of armed resistance. Because there is also the possibility of armed resistance should a regime become too repressive, there is also a moderating effect on the repressive regimes.

Suppose that some oppressive regime is engaged in programs of "resettlement" or "industrialization," or a "great leap forward," and its agents are met at the door of your "humble flat" with armed resistance. Is it better for the agent of that government to die, or for you to be shuffled off to "re-education" camps or worse?

“Ah,” you say, “but that can never happen here.” Ask yourself whether the statistically improbable election results in some precincts that show votes for one candidate while registering none for the opponent are indicative of fraud; does the presence of thugs “standing guard” at a polling place indicate intimidation; does the disregard for property rights that permits your house to be bulldozed on the promise of more money for the maw of the state represent equal protection, does it show regard for your “privileges and immunities,” or does it represent an intrusion into your life that is unjustifiable? If your religion means more to you than simply going to church on Sunday and singing a few hymns; if it courses through you, and animates you, then are you justified in feeling threatened by the state's attempts to tell you how to implement your beliefs?

The right to bear arms is essential to defense of life and property, and inhibits the establishment of tyranny. That in a nutshell is the grounds for defending the 2nd Amendment.