The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol

by on April 4, 2013 at 7:31 am in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

I receive many emails asking me what is my attitude toward guns and gun control.  I would say I wish it worked better than it does (a key point), I don’t think it works very well, I am happy to make those changes which seem to work somewhat, but overall I see an America with lots of guns and a falling crime and murder rate, so let’s focus on what is working, whatever that may be.

I would be happier if advocates of stronger gun control would state up front what percentage of the variation in the murder rate they thought they would be controlling.  I see them as likely to make some dent in the suicide rate, most of all.

I would gladly see a cultural shift toward the view that gun ownership is dangerous and undesirable, much as the cultural attitudes toward smoking have shifted since the 1960s.

I am, however, consistent.  I also think we should have a cultural shift toward the view that alcohol — and yes I mean all alcohol — is at least as dangerous and undesirable.  I favor a kind of voluntary prohibition on alcohol.  It is obvious to me that alcohol is one of the great social evils and when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make sense to me.  It remains one of the great undervalued social movements.  For mostly cultural reasons, it is now a largely forgotten remnant of progressivism and it probably will stay that way, given that “the educated left” mostly joined with America’s shift to being “a wine nation” in the 1970s.

Guns, like alcohol, have many legitimate uses, and they are enjoyed by many people in a responsible manner.  In both cases, there is an elite which has absolutely no problems handling the institution in question, but still there is the question of whether the nation really can have such bifurcated social norms, namely one set of standards for the elite and another set for everybody else.

In part our guns problem is an alcohol problem.  According to Mark Kleiman, half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did.  (Admittedly the direction of causality is murky but theory points in some rather obvious directions.)  Our car crash problem – which kills many thousands of Americans each year — is also in significant part an alcohol problem.  There are connections between alcohol and wife-beating and numerous other social ills, including health issues of course.

It worries me when people focus on “guns” and do not accord an equivalent or indeed greater status to “alcohol” as a social problem.  Many of those people drink lots of alcohol, and would not hesitate to do so in front of their children, although they might regard owning an AK-47, or showing a pistol to the kids, as repugnant.  I believe they are a mix of hypocritical and unaware, even though many of these same individuals have very high IQs and are well schooled in the social sciences.  Perhaps they do not want to see the parallels.

The people who get this right — it seems to me — are the Mormons.  Compassion, most of all for the poor, means that we should raise the social status of Mormons on this issue.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Ashok Rao April 4, 2013 at 7:39 am

This seems unnecessarily severe.

To the extent guns have therapeutic value (shooting, game, etc.) one doesn’t need assault weapons. (I don’t think an AWB will reduce crime rates significantly, but I think it will eliminate the tail risk of mass shootings. And this is a worthy goal.)

Alcohol, on the other hand, has great therapeutic value regardless of the drink. But more importantly, America is a big outlier in both alcohol and guns. While Americans shoot each other like no other country, we’re also very measured about our drinking. Surprisingly. And we’re getting much better over the years. So I don’t really think we need any “shift” in mindset.

See: http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/01/alcohol-no-ordinary-commodity/
See: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/november_december_2012/features/last_call041131.php?page=all&src=farnamstreetblog.com

“The United States, although no stranger to alcohol abuse problems, is in comparatively better shape. A third of the country does not drink, and teenage drinking is at a historic low. The rate of alcohol use among seniors in high school has fallen 25 percentage points since 1980. Glassing is something that happens in movies, not at the corner bar.”

(The economics behind this is very interesting).

I agree that a “change of culture” is probably more important than anything. But with a third of the country avoiding alcohol and record low binge drinking rates I think it’s a very unfair comparison to guns.

dan1111 April 4, 2013 at 8:26 am

Suppose 1000 people died from cause A, while deaths due to cause B declined from 100,000 to 50,000. Does this mean B is less of a problem than A? The argument here is that alcohol use leads to a large number of deaths (and a large amount of crime and other social ills). Saying that alcohol use is in decline does nothing to refute that argument and is in fact irrelevant.

LemmusLemmus April 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

To add, I’d hazard a guess that at least one third of Americans don’t own guns.

veobaum April 4, 2013 at 8:42 am

Ashok, I agree with you overall. But I think a key part of Tyler’s point is not the average drinking in the population. It is the bi-modal aspect of drinking problems. The elite and the middle do well on average. And though the worst groups might be shrinking, they are still sizable and it is still a severe problem among them.

enoriverbend April 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm

@Ashok Rao “I don’t think an AWB will reduce crime rates significantly, but I think it will eliminate the tail risk of mass shootings.”

Given that “assault weapons” as defined by the proposed AWB are functionally more-or-less identical to other rifles, I predict an AWB will be as effective in reducing crime rates as banning single-malt whiskey [only] would be in reducing alcoholism.

@veobaum
“And though the worst groups might be shrinking, they are still sizable and it is still a severe problem among them.”

It’s almost as though people, not inert objects or substances, are to blame. It’s possible — I know this is a stretch — that culture is more of a causal factor than availability.

Alan Gunn April 4, 2013 at 9:24 am

What makes you think that banning some guns because they have cosmetic features like barrel shrouds or bayonet lugs will “eliminate the tail risk of mass shootings”? It’s like saying we could reduce deaths from DWI by outlawing alcoholic beverages sold in containers that have green lettering on them. “Assault weapons” are no more deadly than rifles that aren’t “assault weapons.” Indeed, some of them are functionally identical. The original federal assault-weapons ban banned Colt AR-15s while specifically providing that the Ruger mini 14 was not an assault weapon. These guns use the same mechanism to fire the same ammunition at the same rate.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 9:37 am

What about a ban limit strictly on the rate of fire or need to press trigger for every shot? Would that limit harm potential in a mass shooting incident?

NPW April 4, 2013 at 9:45 am

You do need to press a trigger for every shot on “assault weapons”. They are semi-automatic, not fully.

Jim April 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm

You can explain this and explain this and explain this and explain this, but people will never get it.

The New York Times — and even our own President — lie and say otherwise, every single day.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

The VT shooting used the exact same handgun carried by the majority of police. The biggest variable is the gun-free zone followed by armed response time. Way down the line tweaks to the gun might reduce the body count by 1-2.

eddie April 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Please learn some basic facts about guns before commenting on gun control topics.

Fifteen minutes with Wikipedia and Google will dispel a lifetime of ignorance and mythology propagated by movies and television.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm

You should have to reload with every shot. That should be good enough for hunting and self defense.

TMC April 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Just read an article where a woman’s house was broken into. She hid in the closet until the intruder found her. She shot 5 times. Hitting him 4 times. He fled the scene, but was caught later. Maybe single shot is a dumb idea.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Maybe that’s just one story.

Mark Thorson April 4, 2013 at 10:38 am

What makes you think eliminating some risk of mass shootings is the purpose of legislation? The purpose is to make a show of “doing something”. That’s why banning big nasty-looking guns is on the table, even though little handguns kill far more people. It’s why “cop killer” bullets were banned, even though no cop had been killed by one. It’s all symbols and show. It’s all political spin. As it has always been.

Alan Gunn April 4, 2013 at 11:45 am

Indeed. My favorite is the DC law banning “machine guns” and defining them as any gun with a detachable magazine, making a .22 target pistol a machine gun in DC. I think the main reason I oppose gun control legislation is the colossal dishonesty of so many of its proponents. People willing to do the things theey do deserve to lose, period.

jurisdebtor April 4, 2013 at 9:41 am

Be careful about describing America as being “measured” in its drinking. There are cultural differences vis-a-vis the consumption of alcohol in the U.S. vs most places elsewhere. Despite having the lowest consumption rate of any developed country, the U.S. has one of the highest alcohol-related death rates in the advanced world.

And as dan1111 correctly notes, the decline in the U.S. does not put it near par with Europe or other areas as far as alcohol related problems/violence/deaths/etc. To stick with the U.S./Europe comparison for a moment, it is far more likely for the U.S. to continue to top Europe in alcohol related deaths in part because of differences not only cultural, but in infrastructure–namely access to public transportation vs personal vehicles. The rate of drunk driving in the U.S. will likely always far outweigh drunk driving in Europe because of American public’s reliance on personal vehicles vs taking the train/bus/etc.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm

>>>According to Mark Kleiman, half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did.[involving guns] <<<

Ergo, if you banned drinking, half of them would have been free.
If you banned guns, all of them would have been free.

jk

Ed April 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Actually I predict that you will see prohibition (of alcohol) re-emerge on the public agenda precisely because drinking is falling, more people are teetolers, and drinking is frowned upon more than its been in my lifetime.

Actually I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that gun ownership rates are falling too, that would explain why gun control (making it more difficult for the minority who still wants guns to own them) keeps getting on the agenda.

uffy April 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

What interest group will spearhead such an agenda in your estimation? Seems farfetched.

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:25 am

Some polls show falling gun ownership rates, even though we know the absolute number of guns in circulation has increased dramatically in recent years. I strongly suspect that the discrepancy is due to people who do not trust nosy pollsters asking questions about guns during a witch-hunting moral panic.

dead serious April 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

Reading your comments is like watching Mad Men. You have quaint ideas about things staying exactly as they are, but we all know you and people like you will be extinct soon enough.

You are a smoker from the 70s.

eggo April 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm

“Extinct”? You are an incredibly disturbed person.

meicate April 4, 2013 at 7:40 am

Great. Will do.
But where do I go to raise the social status of Mormons ?

Is it a facebook thing, or something the government does?

Captain Noble April 4, 2013 at 9:18 am

You just need to change your FB profile pic to a drawing of Joseph Smith.

Ricardo April 5, 2013 at 3:01 pm

The social status of the LGBT community has risen during my lifetime. How did that happen?

meicate April 8, 2013 at 9:31 am

An academic requested it, obviously.

Jesse Fuchs April 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Sitcom based around a lightly fictionalized version of Ken Jennings’ life, a la that one about Dave Barry. Depending on lead time, stars either a “Jesus phase” Anthony Jeselnik, or a CGI-shrunk Pete Holmes. Done.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 7:43 am

Guns are designed to maim, wound and kill. You don’t lose much by prohibiting most types of guns legal in the US and regulating others more strictly. You really don’t. Once couldn’t call Europe a police state, unless Tyler is going to go all the way in rhetorically pandering to his conservative buddies.

Basically, it’s not about reason. Attacking alcohol allows Tyler to rile the herp-derps about wine-drinking educated lbirul elites, while praising Mormons. Tyler seems to believe in strong authority structures, which is fine and in line with how most libertarians think. However, it is wilfully naive to believe that private authority is a benevolent force for policing the masses, whereas state authority is evil and must be resisted.

wrparks April 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

Alcohol is designed to intoxicate. You don’t lose much by prohibiting most types of alcohol in the US and regulating others more strictly. You really don’t. One couldn’t call Kuwait a police state unless Millian is going all the way in rhetorically pandering to his religious extremist buddies.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 9:59 am

“Alcohol is designed to intoxicate” – um, yes. This is an experience which is broadly desirable based on the revealed preferences of humans throughout history, and which is better than maiming, wounding and killing, not least because it doesn’t inherently entail harms to others. I thought that comparison, albeit implicit, was blindingly obvious, and only the most devoted libert nut could deny it. Do you deny the superiority of intoxication to maiming, wounding and killing?

“One couldn’t call Kuwait a police state” – yes one could. And Iran, and the others. If you would like to take the side of Iran, rhetorically, and if I am obliged to take the side of Europe, I would be quite happy to accept that positioning.

wrparks April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am

I don’t actually believe what I wrote. But I know quite a few baptists who do. They would prefer a gun over a beer every day. Why are your preferences valid but theirs not? Outside of military use, which has nothing to do with the discussion, alcohol has ruined far more lives than guns. And all of it completely legally. There is no objective reason to prefer the negative effects of alcohol over the negative effects of guns, especially when you consider the scale of the problem.

Guns are actually designed to shoot lead projectiles much like beer is designed to be drank. What you do with said projectiles and intoxication is up to you.

And Kuwait was the least police state nation I could think of where booze is illegal. Kuwait may be closer to a police state than europe, but it isn’t because of their booze or gun laws.

Steve-O April 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I deny the superiority of intoxication to maiming, wounding, and killing when trying to stop a robber or genocidal maniac. The intoxication is superior many other purposes.

Ben Nader April 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

Typical undervaluing of the importance of self defence.

Consider: http://spot.colorado.edu/~huemer/guncontrol.htm

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 9:45 am

“You can’t call Europe a police state”

Well, after correcting for our nation of riflemen and the USSR’s T-34s…

And yes, Europe is still kind of a police state with their thought-crimes and such.

Tom West April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

Undervaluing according to whom?

This is simply a trade-off. Slacker gun laws make it easier for some people to defend themselves at the expense of greater risk (through more guns floating around) to those who aren’t.

Canada has a similar violent crime rate (i.e. the population is about violent), but 1/6th the murder rate, almost all of it gun-related.

How many lives the right to self-defense is worth is a question of relative values, i.e. one that the voters will have to decide.

Buzzcut April 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

Canada is surprisingly violent. I’ve never seen anyone in the US get out of their car and assault the driver in front of them. I’ve seen that TWICE in Toronto. What surprised me was that the assaulters were white. I think that if you control for race, Canada is much more violent than the US, at least the Midwest that I am used to (can’t speak for other areas like the South).

Let’s keep in mind that there were roughly 8000 gun murders in the US last year. Considering how many were due to the drug trade and/ or gangs (most of the Chicago murders are gang related), is the comparison with Canada a valid one?

Ricardo April 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I lived in Calgary for a while and had the same experience.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Let me be clear: Europe is not a police state or a failed police state hellhole because of Americans and their guns.

msgkings April 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Also, Europe is not a hellhole at all

LemmusLemmus April 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

“Tyler seems to believe in strong authority structures, which is fine and in line with how most libertarians think.”

General rule: When making statements that are prima facie wrong, provide argument and/or evidence.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 10:09 am

I think it’s prima facie correct. If it weren’t, there’d be no difference between libertarians and (a certain type of) anarchists. I also think the evidence supports this claim. Libertarians are most vocal when opposing laws that interfere with the ability of man to dominate man in interpersonal relations, such as economic inequality, racial discrimination and guns. There may be nothing wrong with any of these things per se, but each allows the strong to dominate the weak, strongly suggesting that libertarians don’t have a problem with that. In other words, they are private-sector authoritarians, the same way socialists are public-sector economic authoritarians. If libertarians resisted authority structures, they would be equally sceptical of economic inequality and taxation, but this isn’t the case. The Reason crowd also likes to talk about drug legalisation, but this is neither here nor there on the question of authoritarianism: for proof of this, Mormons don’t try to prohibit coffee.

LemmusLemmus April 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

I should think the claim is prima facie wrong because the state is the authority structure par excellence and libertarians would like to see state power shrink.

Whether convincing or not, you make a case that libertarians don’t have a problem with a setup of society that allows for very unequal power relations – *using power in the broad sense of the chance to get one’s way*. I don’t think you easily get from there to “believe in strong authority structures” easily.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

“the state is the authority structure par excellence” – this is not libertarianism, but myopia. There are many authority structures much closer to an individual’s life, such as the family and the employment contract. But, even so, the policies favoured by libertarians would generally see alternative authority structures rushing in to replace the state, not the absence of any authority. Weaker speech laws mean stronger rabble-rousers. Weaker labour laws mean stronger employers. Weaker income redistribution means stronger rich people.

An authority-sceptic would support some laws that restrict people’s freedom to oppress when the violation of the oppressor’s freedom is proportionate, but libertarians rarely furnish examples of this, preferring instead a consistent line of opposition against (for instance) economic intervention or laws against racial discrimination. This suggests that they don’t have a problem with non-state institutions, including sources of authority – and, let’s be honest, they generally don’t have a problem with churches, employers, or the power of money to buy whatever its bearer should see fit! I don’t accept the left-wing claim that “the market” is itself an oppressive instrument, but admiration of markets is another example of praise for strong social institutions that aren’t the state.

LemmusLemmus April 4, 2013 at 11:42 am

The difference between the state and the other institutions you describe (except for the family) is, of course, the use of force in a relationship that has not been chosen by both parties. But it seems to me we’re haggling over the exact meaning of the phrase “believe in strong authority structures”, which does not seem productive.

Jeff April 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Yes, guns are designed to maim, wound and kill. This can be very useful when facing down a big man with a knife. Unfortunately there are no reliable way to know how many crimes never happen merely because someone showed a gun and kept walking. But it’s a solid bet that it does happen.

msgkings April 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

It’s an equally solid bet that it doesn’t happen much at all. I would even wager less than multiple victim shootings and murder/suicides. Definitely far less than gun suicides. Life ain’t a movie.

joshua April 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I’ll take the other side of that wager for multiple victim shootings. The asymmetrical nature of news reporting things that do happen vs not reporing things that don’t happen means multiple victim shootings are national news while averted shootings are local news IF they’re lucky. But we have the Internet for that: http://www.reddit.com/r/dgu

j r April 4, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I agree that Europe is not a police state. Here is the relevant question: could you prohibit, and effectively remove from private ownership, most types of guns presently legal in the United States?

john Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:28 am

You don’t go house to house collecting firearms in the US. You go to one or two houses, and that’s all.

NPW April 4, 2013 at 7:46 am

So Tyler, I’m part of the “elite” because I’m a responsible gun owner? I don’t, however, drink because my body does not handle that well, so perhaps I’m only eliteish? I’d challenge the idea it takes anymore “eliteness” to handle a weapon properly than driving, children, or paying ones bills on time. Perhaps we simply need to expect adults to be adults. I don’t see this as an elitist view.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 7:54 am

Apparently, any alcohol drinker who doesn’t beat their spouse after drinking alcohol is part of the “elite”. So don’t worry: Tyler’s ridiculous framing has nothing to do with gun-owners as such, he’s just trying to draw a false comparison as a frame on which to hang a rant, no other word’s being appropriate, about how much Team Right is better than Team Left.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

Structure of Tyler’s current argument:

X is a social problem but the proposed solution (gun control) is abhorrent to my ideology.

So, let’s use Y (another social problem) and draw a false equivalence with X. Most people don’t like the solution to Y (prohibition) so I can use that to essentially forestall a solution to both X and Y.

Tyler Cowen April 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

In fact the post comes out in favor of gun laws, so your reading is directly off.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 10:17 am

So what? Everyone supports some gun laws. You say we should have “changes which seem to work somewhat”, but they’re unspecified. So, we can throw our hands in the air and wail lamentations but we don’t have to do anything. Rahul has it exactly right: this is a diversionary tactic to avoid offending either side of the gun control argument on your part. You will have to pick a team. It sounds like Team Right is for you, based on your choice of praise (Mormons) and criticism (intelligent social scientists[?!?]). So do it. Jump into the light!

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Hey, what is this “gun culture”? I have guns. The “gun culture” here is safety, seriousness, responsibility, and security. I think people are talking about thug culture when they think they are referring to gun culture.

eggo April 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Andrew, people who talk about “gun culture” like that are generally just saying “I hate those filthy rednecks”.
Virtually none of them have any experience or involvement, and demonstrate their ignorance whenever they try to express their absurd opinions.

Michael April 4, 2013 at 10:08 am

Actual structure of Tyler’s current argument:

X is a social problem but the proposed solution (gun control) doesn’t actually work.

So, let’s look elsewhere.

derek April 4, 2013 at 11:39 am

The issues Tyler raises are real. If you look at alcohol consumption numbers it is dramatic. A small percentage of drinkers consume the vast majority of the alcohol. With guns it is similar, the problems are a small number of people doing the most damage. The vast majority of drinkers or gun owners act responsibly. Any regulation on either activities affects the law abiding and responsible the most, and have little effect on those who are irresponsible.

As for the elite opinion, it is best illustrated by Piers Morgan having his house guarded by people who advertise deadly force.

Ritwik April 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

Yes, it doesn’t take anymore elite-ness to handle a weapon properly than driving *properly*, raising children *properly* and in general managing life affairs *properly*. That many people don’t seem to do the rest of these things well in the absence of a punitive or judgemental authority is also painfully obvious.

NPW April 4, 2013 at 9:42 am

Tyler’s argument seems to be that he believes, without stating his reasoning, that guns are a net evil. He further says that similar to alcohol, guns are ok for the elite, but not the pedestrian. Unless one believes that the average person cannot be expected to demonstrate adult behavior, this argument appears to me to fall apart.

I do not see justification for a society that accepts childish behavior from its adult citizens. There may be more to Tyler’s argument, but what he’s given so far seems to be responsible behavior = elite, therefore, no private gun ownership.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 11:31 am

My wife’s favorite thing in the world (the kids are a close second) is the guy riding the moped due to drunk driving conviction. The State has people under observation for violence for at least 12 years, they just do absolutely nothing about it.

Chip April 4, 2013 at 7:54 am

” (I don’t think an AWB will reduce crime rates significantly, but I think it will eliminate the tail risk of mass shootings. And this is a worthy goal.)”

Europe has roughly the same number of mass shootings. How did the bans work there?

And the US is a huge country with hundreds of millions of guns and mostly porous borders. How does a ‘ban’ work actually?

Marco April 4, 2013 at 8:06 am

“Europe has roughly the same number of mass shootings”

Do you have data or a link for this, please?
(it is common, in Europe, to think that is eminently a US problem.)

Rob April 4, 2013 at 9:00 am

Wikipedia has a list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers I was surprised (I am European), but the list does indeed show about the same number of incidents in Europe as in the Americas. But this is not a complete list, so there may well be selection bias in which incidents are included.

Mark April 4, 2013 at 7:57 am

I had no idea that drinking that beer in front of my kid was the moral equivalent of firing a handgun. Thanks for letting me know.

Thomas April 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

“Many of those people drink lots of alcohol” to “drinking that beer”? Really?

NPW April 4, 2013 at 9:29 am

They are the moral equivalent. Both are teaching a child how to behave like a responsible adult by modeling adult behavior with adult things. It’s the morally correct thing we are supposed to do as parents.

JWatts April 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

I had no idea that drinking that beer in front of my kid was the moral equivalent of firing a handgun.

They are both acts you can either handle responsibly in front of your children or not. There is nothing immoral about demonstrating to your kid how to properly shoot a firearm and informing her that when she’s old enough you’ll allow her to participate. Some people might think it’s immoral to allow a 16 year old how to shoot a gun, much like some others might think it’s immoral to allow a 16 year old to drink alcohol.

Michael April 4, 2013 at 10:28 am

I believe in the importance of demonstrating to my children how to act responsibly, even with dangerous items. Hence they will learn to handle firearms long before they are let out on the road in a car unsupervised. Meanwhile, for the exact same reason, I don’t want them to ever see me intoxicated.

This isn’t an uncommon belief system, btw.

Alan H April 4, 2013 at 10:57 am

I agree with your outlook Michael. I find the so-called ‘gun debate’ in the U.S. more of an ‘ethos debate.’ The sensible (and traditional) gun culture in the non-ghetto U.S. was “you never pick up a gun in anger, only in defense. You never pick up a gun when you have been drinking. You teach your children the safe handling of guns, and the reasons you possess them. If you have an irresponsible person in the household (drinking, hard drugs, mental illness) you have an absolute duty to keep guns out of their hands.” That’s simple enough, But Hollywood has turned guns into a fetish, especially for those who’ve never owned a gun. You would gladly see “a shift to gun ownership as unsafe and undesirable”? Why? The U.S. murder rate is slightly lower than Europe’s if you net out the murders in urban poor minority neighborhoods, This puts us at 2/100K versus Europe’s 3/100K. I would like to see a hard societal deprecation of drunkenness and hard drugs use. That seems a better path.

Thor April 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

“Beer”? (*shudders*) What, was there no wine around?

mulp April 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm

One would think you’d be a bigger fan of mead.

eddie April 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Sounds about right, in that neither one is particularly immoral.

mw April 4, 2013 at 8:00 am

That alcohol facilitates gun crimes doesn’t mean that a world with plenty of alcohol and no guns (such as Japan and England) would be as deadly. Or in the same universe of deadliness.

Michael April 4, 2013 at 10:21 am

Japan has the highest suicide rate of any developed country, and some serious issues with its crime reporting (99% murder conviction rate, really?)

Meanwhile, England isn’t quite as peaceful as commonly thought:
http://swingrightrudie.blogspot.com/2012/04/astroturf-ngac-has-classic-strawman-on.html
http://rboatright.blogspot.com/2013/03/comparing-england-or-uk-murder-rates.html
http://extranosalley.com/?p=35909

Here is a good rundown on cross-national research on the issue:
http://swingrightrudie.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-2004-u.html

mw April 4, 2013 at 11:05 am

So the conclusion is…England is still much less violent. And your answer on Japan is a punt to the suicide numbers. How wrong would the crime reporting need to be to bring Japan anywhere near US numbers? Insanely, astronomically, improbably wrong.

Michael April 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Read those links again. Violent crime in England/UK is higher, but murder rates might be slightly lower. Overall, a wash, I’d say.

ChriA April 5, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I read the links and it appears to me that they concluded that the official figures understated the murder rate in the uk by a factor of two, as only when someone is convicted of a crime is it officially a murder. So the uk murder rate is 30% of the US? Which is not “slightly less”. Having lived extensively in both countries I would guess this is about right, but I doubt it is all due to stronger gun control in the UK, it more likely the ethnographic mix in each country. It is not racist to note that young black males commit much more homicides than the average person for what ever reason. And the US has proportionally more of these.

The gun control debate is kind of a silly one on both sides, I think a lot of the arguments on the pro side are thinly disguised snobbishness, city vs farmer, and unrealistic both in what can be achieved and what the impact would be. Plus I believe in the maximum freedom consistent with a funtioning society and clearly the current us society is functional. But those arguing against also creep me out, I don’t like violence and glorification of it, they are wrong that having a gun makes them safer and they are not safeguarding their freedom against the government, in fact the existence of all these guns justifies a heavier police presence than would be the case otherwise.

So a plague on both their houses.

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:30 am

There is a curious statistical artifact in the Japanese crime reports. They have a category called “family suicide”. When a madman kills his wife, three kids, and finally himself in America, it is counted as four murders and a suicide. In Japan it is five suicides.

Charles Mattrick April 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

Hi. Would you mind putting up the source for the “family suicide” you mentioned? Thanks.

Really Curious April 4, 2013 at 8:07 am

You ignore the other side of alcohol: for vast majority of alcohol users, it is a social lubricant and a stress reliever with no real adverse effects and documented health benefits. If you could magically remove it from society, the result could very well turn on net very negative

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

We only have an “alcohol problem” if there is a lack-of-responsibility problem. In fact, the concept that one loses their responsibility when inebriated is experimental proof of this.

The solution of the lazy is to tell the government to burden the responsible because of the flaws of the irresponsible. This is why the new expert in everything’s gun insurance scheme is dumb. Good insurance rewards the responsible for avoiding the liability. That is not their goal. Their goal is to burden the responsible to the point of giving up the right.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 8:47 am

Exactly. It’s like trying to calculate how many fewer deaths we’d have every year if people stopped using cars entirely for (avoidable) pleasure travel.

I bet a lot.

Millian April 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

A tiny elite of Illuminati-level drivers can operate without problems, but the rest of us just keep skidding off-road and falling down cliffs. At least cars are designed by STEM graduates, not wine-drinking, arugula-eating, bespectacled, effete anthropologists.

Ritwik April 4, 2013 at 10:55 am

The use of alcohol as a social lubricant is endogenous to the presence of alcohol and the need for a social lubricant.

If you were to *magically* remove alcohol, most likely, a new social lubricant will magically take its place.

Tyler’s reasoning is pretty simple, actually, and should be clear to anyone who sees individuals as acting in the context that they operate in. There are several things that keep us from behaving badly. Religion driven moral guilt, social or family shame, authority figures, lack of availability of psychotropes or assualt rifles, punitive action by the state, etc. In various situations some of these things work better than others. Different individuals have different levels of self-control.

It follows that in certain situations, a lack of availability that is *self-driven*, yet through social norms rather than state controls, may be the most effective prevention. Net effect calculations like yours assume everything else is paribus, where clearly they may not be. People did not make friends when you were not of legal drinking age? Even worse is the snark being dished around using silly analogies.

There’s a new book, a simple and hence stark chronicling of the indignities visited upon the German womenfolk in the months following the fall of the Third Reich. She refers to the last ditch attempt attempt at halting the progress of the Soviets and the Allied forces from the east, tried to make alcohol more available to them so that they’d get inebriated and progress slowly. She makes a point about how this could only have been a scheme thought of by men, for it would be trivially obvious to a woman that the sexual savagery that would follow a territorial conquest would be greatly intensified by the presence of alcohol. It would also be trivially obvious that not everyone would engage in the savagery – those would be the moral elites of the day.

That’s sort-of Tyler’s point, transcribed to a different context with a different set of people qualifying for the moral elitism being invoked. Analogies with cars and bringing up children etc. are silly.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 11:47 am

“individuals as acting in the context that they operate in.”

Loved that bit!

whatsthat April 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

“There are several things that keep us from behaving badly.”

Children who grow up in a “bad” environment are likely to be behave badly. Therefore “bad” environments should be controlled.

By your own argument, in your own words.

mrmandias April 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Is alcohol a necessary social lubricant?

I was out with friends at a restaurant when the manager came over and told us regretfully that he was going to have to cut us off. We were flushed, talking loud, laughing at stupid stuff. But none of us had been drinking.

There is some evidence that people get the ‘social lubricant’ effects of drinking alcohol when they are told they are drinking alcohol, even when they haven’t been. Maybe alcohol is a social lubricant placebo?

Ropingdown April 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I like Mormons and Utah as much as the next guy. However, the reality in Mormon Utah is not the drug-free place Tyler apparently assumes. There are lots of guns in Utah. Fine with me. But meth abuse is quite high. I was shocked when I realized what I was seeing. The explanation I got was “Mormon wives feel enormous social pressure to be perfect. Cleaning, cooking, laundering, socializing, being a cheerful interesting partner, requires more energy than they have.”

Troy April 5, 2013 at 11:23 am

Wait, someone actually said that the reason meth use is high is that Mormon housewives are turning to it as a coping mechanism? That’s ridiculous.

DC Thomas April 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm

I don’t know your source. According to government sources, Meth use is reverse correlated to population density and meth usage in Utah is lower than all the surrounding states. http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k6/stateMeth/stateMeth.htm

John Mansfield April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

It doesn’t sound like a point in favor of current alcohol use patterns to say that society couldn’t function without it. That sounds more like a description of a debility that we need overcome.

Johannes April 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

Guns come with great costs to society and it’s time to ensure that those who benefit from gun production and sales and those who enjoy the hobby of owning guns pay for it. If you could sue the owner of a gun if her gun was used in a murder case she would have taken care that it does not fall into the wrong hands. If you could sue Walmart for selling a gun that was used to kill some innocent children, Walmart would take background checks damned serious. And if you could sue gun producers for people killed with their weapons, they would make sure that there is a system in place that effectively ensures that guns are not in the hand of some of the crazy people out there. And finally, if conservatives would be serious and consistent about their belief in the market, they would have implemented such a private solution to the problem decades ago.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 10:52 am

That is not their responsibility. When will we be able to sue the government for deaths caused by their poor traffic management? Until you want to do this generally, it’s just an agenda.

JWatts April 4, 2013 at 11:03 am

We don’t generally hold retailers and manufacturers responsible for the misuse of their products. Should we hold pharmacists or doctors responsible for drug suicides or overdoses? How about holding car manufactures responsible for every death caused by a car? Or the cities & states for building the roads? Should the families of 9/11 victims be able to sue Boeing?

What you seem to want to do is hold responsible people. “those who enjoy the hobby of owning guns”, pay for the criminal actions of others. That seems like a ridiculous idea.

Zephyrus April 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Ignoring the principle of holding manufacturers responsible for the ill effects of what their customers do (interesting conversation in its own right, but clearly opportunistic)…

“What you seem to want to do is hold responsible people. “those who enjoy the hobby of owning guns”, pay for the criminal actions of others. That seems like a ridiculous idea.”

We do that all the time, effectively, with requiring car insurance. There’s a very real, very large social cost associated with operating a car (much bigger by at least an order of magnitude than guns). Ideally we’d perfectly know the risk profiles of everyone: if someone was a perfect driver, could be guaranteed never to drive drunk, always was cautious, never gets distracted, etc., we’d charge them a zero rate. But we don’t know that: we know some vague statistical correlations which insurance companies are often allowed to account for, but beyond that each person still has to pay. Some much more than their actual risk profiles, because it’s impossible for society or institutions to compute that profile.

Guns certainly have some risk associated with them (no argument from me that there are other areas much more worthy of our attention). Requiring someone to purchase gun insurance that covers the cost of shootings of people–accidental or purposeful–is really just making sure that people pay the actual cost of ownership and not offload it onto others.

The biggest difference may well be that psychologically most gun owners are certain that their guns have zero external costs, while most people recognize that even if they’re good drivers their driving does have some kind of external risk associated with it.

Uninformed Observer April 4, 2013 at 8:14 am

This is an odd post. Very… utilitarian. And that’s not a compliment.

Some commentators mock the alcohol analogy. I think the parallels are there, but I’m surprised by where you see them. I would say guns are like alcohol in three ways:

1. Sometimes people do bad things with them that hurt other people.

2. The incidence of badness is a quite low percentage of overall use (i.e. the vast majority of alcohol consumption and gun ownership are benign or even beneficial)

3. Historically, efforts to prohibit or onerously regulate their use, in an effort to eliminate the bad uses, have “unexpectedly” had little or no impact on actual badness, and have led to other, much more serious social ills.

You’re right, in that the key is culture. But there’s not a culture lever you can pull, and even if there were, are attitudes about guns and alcohol really the ones you think need changing? More than, say, attitudes about financial risk, or familial responsibility?

mavery April 4, 2013 at 9:23 am

I would just ask about the unexpected serious social ills that have resulted from gun prohibition. You know, given that we’ve never had anything approaching gun prohibition here.

derek April 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

Do you actually believe that the guns would be given up peacefully? I would think that Waco type scenarios would be quite common. In Canada when the gun registry was introduced I know personally quite a few people who didn’t register, they simply hid or buried their guns. There was a thriving business in plastic pipe, end caps and dessicant.

What was remarkable about the prohibition is how it turned law abiding citizens who wanted to do what they and their predecessors had done for a long time into criminals.

mpowell April 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm

You may be right about what would happen, but I don’t think it justifies the claim in 3. Alcohol prohibition went a lot more poorly than what you would be likely to see in the US if you consider the other examples available. Waco style incidents would be almost entirely limited to a one-time cost of the policy if they happened at all.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I would be happy if all gun owners buried their manhood surrogates in PVC tubes underground. Have at it.

Jim K April 4, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I’m not sure where this bizarre canard about guns and penises comes from. Even Freud didn’t think there was a connection.

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:37 am

Freud did have some interesting things to say about the immaturity of people with a fear of weapons. He never linked gun ownership to feelings of inadequate penis size.

Not that I give a damn what the old fraud thought in any case; psychoanalysis ranks up there with homeopathy on the scale of quackery.

eggo April 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Just… don’t. Take your trolling elsewhere.

bluto April 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

Look at Mexico, when guns are prohibited in nations with porous borders the people willion to defy the ban do so with automatic weapons and RPGs rather than a hunting rifle, cheap pistol.

TMC April 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I’m probably in the top 2-3% in size for males. I say we ban guns and go back to where might makes right.

I guess you did phrase your comment correctly. Women and smaller men protect themselves from crime on a dail basis. The social ill of the stronger preying on the weak would not at all be considered ‘unexpected’.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm

So the reason you don’t assault smaller folks on a daily basis is guns. Please don’t breed.

TMC April 4, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I said ‘go back’ because that is the way it was. Remember the Colt 45 was the ‘great equalizer’?
Even if it were a pretty small effect, as I’d imagine, the total would be much larger than the harm guns do now.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm

So the only choices are we all strap up or we have bare knuckle brawls on the streets. There is absolutely no way we could have a civil society without guns. Got it.

veobaum April 4, 2013 at 9:39 am

Well said.

Maybe, his end point was that since there is no lever to pull on culture, that maybe there is hope in studying the subcultures that seem to work well and gleaning something that might be emulated.

Todd Henderson April 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

As someone else said, alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!

bob April 4, 2013 at 8:51 am
athEIst April 4, 2013 at 9:23 am

Are you THE Todd Henderson? You know what I mean if you are.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

UK has identical suicide rate. It must REALLY suck.

uffy April 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm

That banning guns would limit suicides seems quite suspect for exactly this reason.

Eric S. April 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

I really like this blog but I am completely speechless. Your alcohol comments are stupefying.

Urso April 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Much like alcohol itself!

msgkings April 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Maybe you shouldn’t be drunk when you read it. :-)

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

You don’t appreciate guns. So, you are not really qualified to comment on the costs of gun control. It really is a viable argument to compare it to cars, alcohol, bathtubs, rope, swimming pools. The people who should want to ban those because of their dangers if they were consistent are simply the people who do not appreciate their benefits. Something like 200 people a year die from gun accidents. Everything else requires intent. Noone commits suicide with a gun without intent, even if temporary. Guns simply do what they are designed to do. I also find it extremely hard to believe that a gun crime is the first Bayesian indication of criminality. In fact, that supposedly anti-gun paper you linked to showed the exact opposite. Pre-existing criminals obtain guns. Burdening non-criminals in hopes of secondary effects on criminals, regardless of utilitarian pragmatism, is anti-American.

I would welcome a shift in society that raised the status of responsible people.

Captain Noble April 4, 2013 at 9:22 am
NPW April 4, 2013 at 9:32 am

Compared to other things, accidental gun deaths are not a prime canidate for mitigation focus.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 10:24 am

Kid accidents, which I think is where my 200 number came from, might be, if it were statistically relevant, which it is not. The right way to deal with that is to charge negligent parents.

Finch April 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

How many of the “accidents” are suicides combined with a parent who refuses to believe that was possible?

I’m not firmly in the “suicides shouldn’t count against guns” camp, but they at least require some different thinking.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Some. And some ‘accidents’ might be homicides.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

Okay.

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:39 am

According to the Freakonomics guys, a swimming pool is between 40 and 100 times more likely to kill your young child than a gun. How about you busybodies focus on more realistic and effective risk mitigation, like forcing every pool owner in America to fill them in with dirt?

Pshrnk April 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Women voting was anti-American 100 years ago.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Only when they vote anti-American.

JK April 4, 2013 at 8:43 am

“It is obvious to me that alcohol is one of the great social evils and when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make great sense to me.”

Tyler could you point toward some good (historical or current) writings on this?

Jess Riedel April 4, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I’d also really be interested in this.

mike April 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

Glad to see the commenters here so clearly demonstrating the ignorant prejudices that Tyler describes in his post, in case there was any doubt.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 8:53 am

In some sense prohibition is like communism. It’d be an excellent idea, if only human nature might co-operate.

zbicyclist April 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

+1. Excellent comment, Rahul.

I think we are moving slowly towards social pressure against excessive alcohol use — much credit to MADD. It’s not cute to drive while drunk. Our monthly poker games, which used to involve much smoking and drinking a couple of decades ago, now have smokers go outside and have more Diet Pepsi than whiskey. The Mormons mostly have social norm enforcement, it seems to me. There are restrictive laws in Utah, but Mormons in Chicago don’t seem to drink either.

JWatts April 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

if only human nature might co-operate.

We just need another regulation to fix that, or maybe re-education camps. Either way, once The Right Men are in charge, we’ll be knocking on utopia’s door.

jh April 4, 2013 at 8:48 am

I think the strong reactions to Tyler’s post are pretty telling.

Steve J April 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

Pretty telling that Tyler is indeed a master troll?

WTF? April 4, 2013 at 8:53 am

Why does Tyler hate freedom?

Bill April 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

I think we should give urban gangs guns to protect themselves from other gangs but restrict their alchohol by limiting how much they consume to the size of a Mayor Bloomberg 7-11 cup..

Bill April 4, 2013 at 8:58 am

I also think we should enroll urban gang gun owners in an NRA responsible gun owner and safety program.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

Or, look at the fact we have an incarceration rate of almost 800/100k versus a murder rate of 5/100k and realize the priorities of government, and Bloomberg in particular, are competely insane.

Ed April 4, 2013 at 9:04 am

The reference to Mormons and the comparison of misuse of guns to misuse of alcohol is interesting.

My question is: what about positive benefits of alcohol? There are entire countries like Ireland with a pub culture where friends and neighbors meet up and discuss life. While I drink very seldom, it would be naive to think that certain social interactions are not enhanced with alcohol.

How do Mormons promote the kind of neighborliness or spontaneous social interaction that alcohol can provide?

Ben April 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

I’m Mormon, so I’ll throw in my two cents here. Mormons promote neighborliness mostly the same way everyone else does, except without alcohol. We invite people over for dinner, we have barbeques, we go to movies, we go out to dinner, we go to and host parties, etc. About the only thing we don’t do as much is go to bars in the evenings or on weekends, so I guess that could take away from our social interaction a bit (although I can’t say that the times I have been to bars with friends has really enhanced my relationships with those people).

In addition to the above, Mormons have a very strong culture of interaction within our church. We see other Mormons constantly (e.g. often multiple times a week) for various church functions. So perhaps we make up for the lack of alcohol that way to some extent, although that makes us a bit insular, which is unfortunate.

I’ve never had alcohol, so I can’t say for sure to what extent I might be missing out on some kind of enhanced interaction, but in my experience neighborliness and spontaneous social interaction doesn’t actually require alcohol at all. In fact, I’d argue that Utah is probably the most neighborly place I’ve ever lived (don’t live there now). And, when drinking is not an option, getting together with friends means you’re more likely to *do* something else, something potentially even more enriching or engaging.

Can a pub culture create interaction? Sure. But it’s not irreplaceable by any means.

Steve J April 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

I think this is a great example of how we have to be careful with the teachings of gods:

http://mormon.org/faq/law-of-health

Back in 1833 we understood that these substances had mind altering effects. However we did not understand how the alteration worked. The Joseph Smith of today might add high glycemic index foods to that list and other things that cause changes in body chemistry. Always remember that the teachings of gods are limited by the knowledge level of those receiving the prophecy.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm

@Ben:

“We invite people over for dinner”

Non-Mormons too or is it mostly other Mormons?

Troy April 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Mormon here. My wife and I like to include non-Mormons in our social circle and have them in our home often. However, I think that the convenience offered by frequent church associations makes Mormons seem cliquish. It’s not intentional, however. Frankly, my non-LDS friends are much more fun. We have a BYO policy toward alcohol in our house, although we don’t have kids. Not sure what we’ll do then.

Ben April 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

@Rahul: Non-mormons too, for sure. Although I think this varies a lot–some Mormons invite non-Mormons into their homes regularly, others don’t do it as much. I agree with @Troy that because of frequent church associations a good portion of Mormons tend to associate mostly (or even exclusively) with other Mormons. Definitely not intentional, it just happens if people aren’t as outgoing or feel that they get all the social interaction they’d like within the Mormon community. Other Mormons intentionally go out of their way to broaden their social circle to include non-Mormons as well.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Interesting perspective thanks. Though @Troy; based on lack of kids and BYO policy you don’t seem the typical Mormon I’ve met (sample size of about 10 families).

wrparks April 4, 2013 at 9:42 am

Alcohol provides lubrication for superficial social interactions that eventually may lead to more meaningful relationships

Mormon’s or other religious groups interact by getting to know one another in social/church functions. Perhaps the initial meetings are a bit more awkward without booze, but I’d assume getting to know someone over time leads to an equally fulfilling relationship as getting plastered at a bar.

Erick April 4, 2013 at 9:50 am

Neighborliness and spontaneous social interaction:
Mormons meet weekly for worship services conducted by lay members (congregants are asked to give sermons on various gospel-related topics).
Weekly “Sunday school” classes, and meetings with cohort organizations (men’s groups, women’s groups, teen males, teen females, etc.) give opportunities to socialize and organize for service events (new babies, people moving in or out, sickness, death).
Mormons organize visits to other members homes to “check up” on each other (“Home Teaching” and “Visiting Teaching”). This can be viewed as a Big Brother thing, or as a way that the community can build small-group social bonds and identify members that have needs but whose pride makes them unwilling to ask for help (self-sufficiency is highly prized in this culture).
Mormons organize frequent social activities such as pot-luck meals to meet each other in less formal situations.
Mormons are expected to serve within the Church community as required in various capacities, such as Boy Scout leader, compassionate service coordinator, lay pastor (“bishop”) and other local leadership.
These together generate opportunities for “neighborliness or spontaneous social interaction” for people that would by nature not organize social events in their home or frequent a pub or tavern.

Effem April 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

Having spent a fair bit of time with Mormons in their social environment I feel confident saying it is not for most. It’s a bit like choosing to be in the band instead of on the football team. Sure, both are “fun” but most of us know which one is truly more fun (by a lot).

Brian Donohue April 4, 2013 at 9:16 am

Very good post. As someone who personally enjoys hoisting the occasional shot but not firing the occasional shot, I find this to be a useful, apt, and thought-provoking comparison and hypocrisy-check.

Claudia April 4, 2013 at 9:18 am

oh the disappointment….read title: “The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol” and thought we’d get a reprise of TC’s ode to *Spring Breakers.*

honestly, this is a great post. not because of the policy recommendations about alcohol, but the let’s stop and think about what gun control is about. causality is wily little object in our social outcomes and the obvious ’cause’ of our problems is rarely obvious and many times not even the primary cause. and sometimes our problems are not even, on net, problems. So I liked the exercise…though the gems of inconsistency were not just in the audience.

ricardo April 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Claudia, you’re starting to write like Tyler.

Claudia April 4, 2013 at 9:57 am

Sorry. I just liked the undercurrent of the post. I have been occupied with a futile (unrelated) causality debate and could only dream of pulling such a left-field logical argument. Back to reality now and I will try to write like my work self more, oh wait, my work self is not really supposed to write here …

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 11:11 am

If you eliminated all murders involving guns that would leave at least ~33%. It would not bring the murder rate to below that of the UK. The UK has the same suicide rate as the US. Thus, they have figured out alternatives to guns. We would likely also figure out substitutes for suicide and murder. This is probably why the UK is now banning knives. Thus eliminating guns would not eliminate all the gun deaths. It may eliminate a large or a small fraction of the deaths. It just does not pass the logic test that the presence of a handgun causes these actions. It makes their “success rate” higher. How much higher?

http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/guns/archive/knives/msg00006.html
The mortality rate for gunshot wounds was 22% while that for stab wounds was 4%.

Considering that “murder” is an accounting identity, the 5+ times lethality rate of guns compared to knives and the current ~5 times death rate from guns vs knives (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004888.html) indicates that at best elimination of all guns would cut gun murders by ~4/5ths. I think that is a very generous estimate at the extreme outer bounds, assuming the numbers are accurate (see the discussion at the link if you like). It is likely that people select guns when they really want a person dead and thus not the full number would be realized if people were made to use something other than guns. Noone would ‘bring a knife to a gun fight’ if they had the time and resources to plan it out, so knives are likely the more impulsive choice. For a planned murder they’d simply used the next best thing and try harder.

So, the benefit side is to not reduce the deaths to the comparison countries. Something else is going on. For the cost side, maybe you’d like to ask a gun enthusiast what he would think about strict gun control.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm

“…at best elimination of all guns would cut gun murders by ~4/5ths.”

That’s not worth doing, just because some segment of the population enjoys playing with loud toys?

First best world: no guns.
Second best world: hunters and those who feel the need to keep a pistol for home security purposes can purchase a single shot weapon; ammunition is taxed out the wazoo to subsidize negative externalities.
Third best world: what we have now.
Last best world: what we have now but with less/no personal restraint.

TMC April 4, 2013 at 6:04 pm

“ammunition is taxed out the wazoo” Sure. Hate for gun owners to actually practice.
You really are an idiot.
Off topic, but related – Let give 16 yr old cars, but forbid drivers education.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 6:46 pm

16 year old drivers need to be insured, idiot. I would say make gun owners pay exorbitant insurance but that wouldn’t penalize the lawbreakers. They just wouldn’t pay for gun owner’s insurance; an ammunition tax would hit everyone, legal or otherwise.

TMC April 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Ammo tax would penalize good behavior, practicing (responsible ownership). Not much of a penalty to tax a bullet $50 if you use only one to kill someone. BTW, insurance cleans up after the fact. It does not stop bad behavior. Are all of your arguments this poorly thought out? (scans the comments) Why yes they are.

Thomas Sewell April 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

“…at best elimination of all guns would cut gun murders by ~4/5ths.”

And at worst, it’d increase murders overall, potentially by a lot. Which is of course the real issue.

If you eliminate guns from the types of people in the U.S. that follow gun laws, all you’re primarily doing is disarming potential victims.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

Tyler eschews Caps?

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 10:42 am

That’s what he said.

C April 4, 2013 at 9:25 am

Isn’t this post sort of a disengenuous red-herring? Here we are, today, with states beginning to legalize drug use after years and years and years of wasted effort, education, policing, foreign policy directives. So, now Tylor propozes we start discussing alchohol… you know, instead of guns.

Dismalist April 4, 2013 at 9:34 am

Why all the emotion? Perfectly standard economic analysis points in the right direction: Guns and alcohol are questionable only to the extent they produce externalities. Attack the externalities as close to source as possible. Unfortunately, as a prerequisite, a little thought may be necessary.

Nylund April 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’d actually agree that alcohol causes all sorts of problems. I also think we know that banning it causes more problems than it fixes. I also think that it’s a very imperfect analogy. One can’t draw policy conclusions based on the policy outcomes of the other.

It strikes me all as a side show. “Sure, A is bad, but so is B, so let’s all talk about B!” It’s a misdirection.

What did Tyler actually say about gun control? He wishes it worked better (whatever “it” refers to), and supports the aspects that are working well (whatever those may be), but demands that gun-control supporters first name a policy and estimate a decent average treatment effect (or something like that).

That’s not actually saying much at all, but instead people are talking about booze.

Ignoring the sideshow topic, two quick thoughts:

1. There are papers that measure the effects of certain policies. Off the top of my head, there’s one about murder rates on the US/Mexican border as they relate to the expiration of the assault weapon ban. There’s one from an economist from Texas about the effects of stand your ground laws on the murder rate. The area most studied has to do with suicide rates. Off the top of my head, I can think of one regarding IDF weekend gun policy and another using Australian data and their ban. Tyler is likely familiar with this last topic. That may be why he expects to see a dent in suicide rates.

2. One reason it’s hard to find many good estimates on the “percent of variation of the murder rate” from gun control proposals is that in 1996, Congress, under pressure from the NRA banned the CDC from doing exactly the sort of research Tyler wants to see. President Obama changed that recently. Sequester/budget issues not-withstanding, hopefully we’ll see more research on this.

3. The best estimation techniques for the type of numbers “percent of variation” that Tyler wants look at treatment effects AFTER a policy has been implemented (notice all the research I mention is all post-policy change). To demand numbers prior is quite a demand. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and especially when all of our priors are pretty uninformed due to the ban on CDC research and the limited number of past policies to evaluate. To demand such a number is to demand a number both people feel pretty certain will be wrong. It’s a sucker’s bet.

Nylund April 4, 2013 at 9:50 am

I’d actually agree that alcohol causes all sorts of problems. I also think we know that banning it causes more problems than it fixes. I also think that it’s a very imperfect analogy. One can’t draw policy conclusions based on the policy outcomes of the other.

It strikes me all as a side show. “Sure, A is bad, but so is B, so let’s all talk about B!” It’s a misdirection.

What did Tyler actually say about gun control? He wishes it worked better (whatever “it” refers to), and supports the aspects that are working well (whatever those may be), but demands that gun-control supporters first name a policy and estimate a decent average treatment effect (or something like that).

That’s not actually saying much at all, but instead people are talking about booze.

Ignoring the sideshow topic, two quick thoughts:

1. There are papers that measure the effects of certain policies. Off the top of my head, there’s one about murder rates on the US/Mexican border as they relate to the expiration of the assault weapon ban. There’s one from an economist from Texas about the effects of stand your ground laws on the murder rate. The area most studied has to do with suicide rates. Off the top of my head, I can think of one regarding IDF weekend gun policy and another using Australian data and their ban. Tyler is likely familiar with this last topic. That may be why he expects to see a dent in suicide rates.

2. One reason it’s hard to find many good estimates on the “percent of variation of the murder rate” from gun control proposals is that in 1996, Congress, under pressure from the NRA banned the CDC from doing exactly the sort of research Tyler wants to see. President Obama changed that recently. Sequester/budget issues not-withstanding, hopefully we’ll see more research on this.

3. The best estimation techniques for the type of numbers “percent of variation” that Tyler wants look at treatment effects AFTER a policy has been implemented (notice all the research I mention is all post-policy change). To demand numbers prior is quite a demand. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and especially when all of our priors are pretty uninformed due to the ban on CDC research and the limited number of past policies to evaluate. To demand such a number is to demand a number both people feel pretty certain will be wrong. It’s a sucker’s bet.

[I apologize if this is a double-post, things acting weird on my end.]

jurisdebtor April 4, 2013 at 9:50 am

To really shake things up, how can we as a society be so accepting of (using TC’s argument) to varying degrees destructive elements (drinking and guns) yet pose a near complete prohibition on marijuana–which is, conversely not shown to cause the ills that the former are. If the concern over guns and alcohol is predicated on the harm caused to others by those who engage in the use of either guns or alcohol, then why are some recreational drugs such as marijuana banned (when was the last time you read about the guy who got stoned and then beat his wife/kids, started a bar fight, etc.

Yes, there is still the issue of OUIs, but the mortality rates from car crashes due to alcohol consumption vs marijuana are not even comparable.

affenkopf April 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Marijuana legalization would be the most effective non-coercive way to lower alcohol consumption I can think of.

mrwiizrd April 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm

bingo

anon April 4, 2013 at 9:50 am

Prohibition – the great stagnation indeed. Nothing breeds vice like an attempt to promote virtue by force.

As a recovering alcoholic, I’m all for self-control and self-discipline, but I don’t want the state telling me (or anyone else) I can’t drink.

Making and consuming alcohol has been around for a long time, as has the consumption of other mind altering substances. And nothing the state, religion, or neighbors do is going to change that. Thank G-d.

And in the US, good luck with changing the 2nd Amendment. Although the rest of the Bill of Rights has already been substantially chipped away.

Nigel April 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

“when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make great sense to me. It remains one of the great undervalued social movements…”

Given the more or less uniformly disastrous experiments with prohibition, I am puzzled by your opinion.
Are you perhaps confusing the temperance movement with the prohibitionists ?

francesca April 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

Let’s look at a real problem — prohibition on drugs that leads to horrendous crimes by those involved in the drug trade. Many of those committing those crimes are using guns obtained illegally. Will stricter controls do anything about their use of guns? Did the war on drugs do anything to cut down on drug-related crimes?

Would making drug sales legal reduce those crimes and the use of guns?

whatsthat April 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

Having bad parents makes for negative externalities.

So let us also ban bad parents.

There should be prohibition on marriage.

I think this is an underrated social movement.

Harry K April 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

I haven’t seen any of the pro gun control people on this thread explain a logical process of how Newtown would have been prevented by gun control. Forget the alcohol argument just focus on guns. I also never hear people explain why it is only guns that need to be controlled. People can be killed in large quantities in many different ways (ex: OK City). If a person has a desire to kill what makes you think eliminating guns would lead to that person not killing anyone?

Bill April 4, 2013 at 10:29 am

I’ll bite. My wife is a public librarian. One of the partons was a person who didn’t take her meds, and had a paranoic belief that her brothers and sisters were taking away her inheritance. (She also received messages from the Pope and George Bush as well, but that’s a different post.) She purchased a gun at a gun show and during the probate hearing shot and killed her lawyer and shot her brother.

When you go to a scary movie tonight, look around the audience and wonder: is there someone in here who is slightly crazy and has an assault rifle ready to jump on the stage.

Sleep tight.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 11:15 am

“She purchased a gun at a gun show”

There are background checks at gun shows unless buying from ordinary citizens which does not require gun shows. And she was psychotic? And she defeated a court’s gun checks? What is the point of this story, Bill?

Millian April 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

Of course there are background checks. Just as there are age checks at U.S. bars and liquor stores that prevent anyone under 21 from drinking alcohol.

wrparks April 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm

And yet I spent significant portions of my teenage years inebriated and never found getting alcohol difficult…..

ID checks and background checks both strike me as failed policies. Not bad policies, but ones that can never really work all that well.

I understand that it is actually more difficult to get alcohol now than it was in the 90′s when I was a kid. This is due to the fact that they have started publicly prosecuting those who provide alcohol to minors. Seems to me that this might be a good place to start. And in fact, I think this policy is being explored by many states regarding liability for a acts committed with a gun that was improperly stored. Problem is it will be a lot harder for the state to determine if a person is insane than if they are or are no 21 years old.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

And all the FFLs that I’ve seen do them. Bill is implying that this psychotic got a gun without a background check. The only way the gun show is relevant is that lots of citizens show up there with guns. That either makes little sense or no sense. He’s either proposing universal background checks in the assumption that it has something to do with a known psychotic or the lady passed the background check that she did get.

Harry K April 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Still concerning Newtown, the mother was the one who owned the gun and by all accounts she was “sane.” Are we saying that Newtown would have been prevented if there was some gun control law preventing parents with autistic or disabled from owning guns? How are we going to enforce that law? Does that not scare anyone?

Bill April 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Don’t tell Andrew about the gun show loophole because it will spoil his comment.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm

There is no gun show loophole. Has anyone ever explained to you, Bill, how the country works? The Feds regulate dealers. That’s it.

JWatts April 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Perhaps Bill considers any activity not covered by a Federal Regulation a ‘loophole’?

Bill April 4, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Oh, Andrew, I get your analysis:

the government regulates only gun dealers, and not gun sellers at a weekend event.

Gotcha.

So, that’s your reasoning (?) that this isn’t a loophole–because the legislation never included weekend sellers and was only intended to cover dealers.

Wow.

That’s the best one I’ve ever heard.

It’s not a loophole because it was never included.

Bill April 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

I’d also be curious about any of the audience who teach in college and have had psychotic students whom they failed in a course. Or, any prosecutors or judges who deal with violent individuals. Or psychiatric social workers who deal with these people.

My wife arranged for some psychiatrists to train the library staff on how to deal with the mentally ill in public libraries. She went to the psychiatric group’s office prior to the program. The receptionist was behind a bullet proof glass enclosure.

Yeah, we don’t need background checks.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

You think you can pre-crime their access to guns, but otherwise they are A-OK to wander the streets? The way things should be done is that when people demonstrate a threat, that’s called a crime, and when that is proven they are dealt with in a way to protect society. I’d be intrigued to know the violence rate of psychotics with guns versus other guns. As I say above I suspect at most it is 4/5ths only murders. I’d suspect it is not that much and skewed towards other violence which the state has just as much responsibility for. I’d also be intrigued to know the number of psychotics with prior proven violence records are not being dealt with in a way that protects society.

anon April 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

There’s an elephant in the room, and it isn’t guns.

Bill April 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Is it Andrew?

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm

No Bill. It is that the psychotic in your story either passed a background check or didn’t.

Bill April 4, 2013 at 5:04 pm

The lady bought the gun at a gunshow at the state fairground and there is no background check for that sale.

dead serious April 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Totally agree, which is why you should be in support of private citizens stockpiling munitions, chemical weapons, etc. because you just can’t stop it.

Tom West April 5, 2013 at 8:11 am

Well, the massacres are probably the hardest to stop, but in general, less guns means less gun violence. (Why aren’t gangs lobbing hand-grenades at each other? They’re hard (but not impossible) to get.) It’s as simple as that. Forget the 100 who die at the hands of madmen, it’s the 12,000 who die each year in mostly urban shootings, acts of passion, accidents, etc. that’s truly staggering.

Canada has a similar violent crime rate as the US. We’re culturally very similar. But the murder rate is approximately 1/6th. Why? Simply because guns are harder to come by and it’s a lot harder to kill someone without one. Yes, if you are *truly* determined, you’ll get one. But the interesting thing is that most would be murderers aren’t that determined. The culture puts lots of guns out there, you use guns. Not so many guns, perhaps you beat them up instead.

Over the course of 50 years, you could easily cut the murder rate in half by just making it harder and harder to get and use pistols. Will it get rid of all of them? Of course not. But it will slowly bring the murder rate down.

Now, is saving a few thousand lives a year worth it the loss of freedom? Well, that’s a value judgement that the voters have to make.

Eggo April 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm

No it isn’t, because our bill of rights guarantees that voters do not have the power to demand their representatives enact certain laws.

Go Kings, Go! April 4, 2013 at 10:34 am

“but still there is the question of whether the nation really can have such bifurcated social norms, namely one set of standards for the elite and another set for everybody else.”

Has it ever been otherwise, at least since the end of the Mesolithic?

lxm April 4, 2013 at 10:54 am

There’s another commonality between alcohol and guns that I don’t think has been mentioned yet.

Both have been glorified in the media to the benefit of their respective manufacturers.

As far as I am concerned the major beneficiary of the NRA are not the gun owners, but the gun manufacturers. And it has been amazing to me watch our political leaders roll over for the industry. I am sure if the alcohol industry was challenged, our political leaders would roll over for them as well.

Just another example of how corporatism distorts American life.

moom April 4, 2013 at 10:57 am

In many ways, the Steubenville rape case seemed to have more to do with underage drinking than rape. There’s a good chance there would have been no crime if both the rapists and the victim has been sober.

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:45 am

You insult me and the 5 million other NRA members. Manufacturers gave an average of $1.8 million to the NRA over each of the past 8 years. But the NRA takes in over $100 million per year in membership dues from individual citizens. And it’s not the manufacturers that scare the Congress-scum, it’s us members in our teeming millions. We are the most effective grass roots organization in American politics, with the only possible exception being the AARP. I have sent dozens of phone message and letters to the politician scum over the years.

Rich Berger April 4, 2013 at 10:55 am

“I would be happier if advocates of stronger gun control would state up front what percentage of the variation in the murder rate they thought they would be controlling.”

Substitute for “gun control” the object of any legislation and this would be a good standard for any law. This would be laughed at, because the goal of most laws is not results, but to give the appearance that the legislators “care” or are “doing something”.

If the government were judged on results and bad programs were axed, we would have a lot smaller government.

jseliger April 4, 2013 at 10:59 am

Our car crash problem – which kills many thousands of Americans each year — is also in significant part an alcohol problem.

It’s also a zoning / urban planning problem and a sex problem. Regarding the first, in much of the country it’s impossible or unreasonable to walk or take cabs to bars. We should make denser development easier for all sorts of reasons, and this is one of them. Certainly if 30,000 people a year were being killed by terrorism we would collectively be making all sorts of radical and probably undesirable changes as a society, but 30,000 dead a year from car crashes, many possibly preventable, gets a collective shrug.

Regarding sex, a lot of women want to remove their inner voice of slut-shaming / shame / reason / whatever you want to call it and choose alcohol as a means to do so. A lot of guys want liquid courage, and they also understand the dynamic that’s going on in the first sentence and react accordingly. Hence alcohol as a sexual strategy, especially among the young, and I don’t see desire for booze going away before sexual double standards.

John April 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

Jews have long been noted for low rates of alcoholism and alcohol consumption. Don’t know how that’s changed in the last hundred years.

Adam April 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

Stricter gun controls would have almost no effect on murder rates in the near term or probably even the medium term. But Tyler writes:

> I would gladly see a cultural shift toward the view that gun ownership is dangerous and undesirable, much as the cultural attitudes toward smoking have shifted since the 1960s.

This is where regulation would matter. We can either aim for a point 50 years hence in which military-style weapons in the hands of civilians are a cultural norm, or we can aim for a point in which these weapons are rare, tightly regulated, and viewed with a certain abhorrence. Libertarians tend to have a massive status quo bias — regulations won’t help! — but that discounts the effect to which government policy is both an expression of and driver of cultural preference over long periods of time.

On alcohol, totally agree, and here the fix is easy, effective, and entirely compatible with liberty: tax alcohol to price in the externality.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

“We can either aim for a point 50 years hence in which military-style weapons in the hands of civilians are a cultural norm, ”

Ummm…do you and Tyler want to come over some time?

bluto April 4, 2013 at 11:45 am

What pray tell do you mean by miltary style weapons? In terms of function the point was hit 80 years ago (the few that remain generally are priced above that of a car, are exceedingly tightly regulated, and have never been used in a crime, the two exceptions are both police owned weapons).

There are lots of guns that look similar to a military weapon but are functionally different enough that the skill required to convert them is equivalent to the skill required to build the military style weapon from scratch.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Full-auto is another irrelevant bogeyman. It would be nearly pointless except maybe in a movie theater or something. It is intended for suppressive fire in team tactics. As a lone gunman it is nearly useless. Go watch some videos. If common sense does not convince, further evidence is that the military even moved to the 3-round burst mode for the AR-15.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burst_mode_%28weapon%29
“For instance, the M16A2 (the standard-issue service rifle of the U.S. military) has, in addition to the semi-automatic mode, a 3-round burst mode, which replaced the fully automatic mode of the previous M16A1. The reason for this replacement was the massive waste of ammunition and very poor performance of soldiers who fired their rifles in fully automatic mode during the Vietnam War.”
Thus, full auto was not even effective by the military in its most effective role of team tactics.

bluto April 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Rifles of all sorts are an irrelevant bogeyman, they’re very rare in crime, no matter how they’re operation. Thus the stupidity restricting “military-style weapons in the hands of civilians” that target how something looks.

Alan H April 4, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Full-auto is not by any means useless to a lone gunmam. If they could have them, they would. As for the 3-round burst bit, that was absurd and was motivated by a desire at the top to save money. It is gone. Full-auto on M4 rifles is back. Fortunately. What stuns me in the post and many of the comments is the complete disconnect between guns and perpetrators. The US ex-minority urban neighborhoods has a lower murder rate than Europe, at 2/100K versus 3/100K. The specified neighborhoods have a murder rate of 18/100K. It isn’t suburban and rural citizens murdering, typically. The obvious problem (several posts have mentioned it) is the seriously mentally ill person: Again and again people report that a person was visibly/audibly delusional. But then they got hold of a gun a killed. Why, oh why, don’t people intervene immediately when someone not confined is delusional. Such people are invariably “off their meds.” They need help immediately to get back on them. They don’t just shoot people. They cut people, club people, run over people, and so forth. Help them!

John Skookum April 5, 2013 at 3:47 am

“We can either aim for a point 50 years hence in which military-style weapons in the hands of civilians are a cultural norm, or we can aim for a point in which these weapons are rare, tightly regulated, and viewed with a certain abhorrence.”

I vote for mandatory automatic rifle ownership along the lines of the Swiss model.

Ray Lopez April 4, 2013 at 11:16 am

Alex Taberok’s thoughtful post on Energy Policy in the USA: 8 comments
Tyler Cowen’s gratuitous post on ‘what I think of guns in the USA’: 106 comments

Tyler knows how to push his reader’s hot button!

anon April 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

See troll comment above.

Rahul April 4, 2013 at 11:43 am

Trolling here must also send his viewership ratings through the roof.

Adam April 4, 2013 at 11:34 am

And Tyler continues to demonstrate that he’s a unique dude.

But when it comes to guns, why are we starting with the false premise the gun control is about reducing the murder rate? It’s not. It’s about reducing the harm from guns.

As for whether it works, it’s almost impossible to say, as we’ve never had any gun control that’s worth anything. Perhaps the second amendment means that we never can, but that’s a different argument. Anyway, the gun control we’ve had has been so riddled with loopholes – loopholes that the gun industry (i.e., the NRA) will fight tooth and nail to preserve – that it’s not surprise it’s not been terribly effective.

As for alcohol, well, it’s certainly true that it’s a contributing factor to many social ills. But we also know that there will always be demand for mind and mood altering substances. And ideal world might have the Mormon take on them, but that will never be comprehensive. Instead, we’ve had policy that’s tried to focus on what works, like cracking down on drunk driving. That seems like the right policy choice to me.

Andrew' April 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

The murder rate is the best proxy for the only interest the state has in the gun issue.

Richard Besserer April 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

Well, both the gun and alcohol problems have the root—stupidity, or its functional equivalents in irresponsibility and poor impulse control. You can’t fix stupid, at least in adults. (It can be fixed to a certain extent in children if caught in time; being raised in a strictly religious household, Mormon or otherwise is one way of doing that, but not the only one.) A government that tries to fix stupid in its population against their will does so at its peril. The best a government can do is promise that the irresponsible will be made to accept the consquences of their actions, and make the promise as credible as possible. You break it, you pay for it, and if you can’t or won’t pay up you go to prison till you can and do.

That finding a tight link between gun regulation and crime rates has been so difficult in itself suggests that no such relationship exists, or if it does it’s marginal compared to the many other factors involved. Even were they not the legal nightmare it actually is in the United States, restrictions on gun ownership making it as difficult for civilians to own a gun as it is in most of Europe (not to mention Japan) strike me as much more costly to enforce than they’re probably worth—starting with the task of putting the untold numbers of guns that are already out there “beyond use,” as the IRA put it.

If terrorism (pick the stripe you fear the most) is a genuine worry, recall that the IRA had more than guns at its disposal—and no guns were fired at innocents at Oklahoma City.

Christopher Walker April 4, 2013 at 11:52 am

The US has a low level of alcohol consumption, particularly with regard to other industrialized nations. Yet many of our social problems are much greater than those countries with a higher level of alcohol consumption. I therefore do not believe that addressing alcohol consumption will be effective in addressing those societal ills which are meant to be addressed.

If anything, we still have a decidedly Protestant stance on alcohol. It’s stigmatized and considered a vice. With regard to any change in “alcohol culture,” I’d much prefer a shift in attitude away from the current “alcohol is evil” one. Promote responsible use.

I much prefer France’s attitude toward alcohol than Iran’s.

Emily April 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Violence is a joint function of multiple variables, including alcohol and guns. That other countries get to lower violence via fewer guns and more alcohol doesn’t mean addressing alcohol consumption wouldn’t be an effective way of addressing violence. Alcohol seems in some ways easier to address, since there’s no equivalent of the second amendment involving it.

Jeff April 4, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I just knew this would draw lots of comments.

After reading some of them I need a drink.

Bill April 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

+1 I’ll drink to that.

Soberly.

Now, if he had just gotten Krugman into the post he would have scored an all time high.

Maybe next time.

Bill Reeves April 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

1. The high level of gun violence in the US is highly correlated to the illegal drug trade.
2. The creation of the illegal drug trade is a result of our elites to attempting to manipulate public behavior to reduce the consumption of psychoactive drugs which they deem ‘bad’ for society.
3. The grand daddy of drug prohibitions was of course alcohol prohibition which ushered in an era of exploding violent (gun) crime, corruption and mass violence.
4. This violence plummeted during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, upon its repeal and when drug laws were minimal and limited in their enforcement
5. Tragically, elite attitudes like Prof Cowen’s led to a need to ‘do something’ about marijuana and other drugs, leading to radical restrictions, prohibitions and criminalization of drug related behavior starting in the 1960s and 70s which inevitably led to an explosion of organized and violent crime.
6. This of course led to to more gun crime which has resulted in demands for the state to control guns more.
7. Perhaps what really needs to be restricted is the belief by bien pensants that they have an ‘obligation’ and right to manipulate public behavior to ‘make’ the nation ‘better’.
8. These ‘righteous’ impulses seem to always end up in state coercion that drives corruption, criminality and violence upwards.
9. I am not suggesting that Prof Cowen is a prohibitionist, only that the attempt by elites to manipulate the masses’ ‘anti-social’ behavior often ends in the guns, shackles and small steel boxes of state coercion.
10. Perhaps Professor Cowen should stick to promoting good foodism. Although we’ve also seen some fringe attempts at criminalization of ‘wrong’ food behavior (Mayor Bloomberg call your service) emerge from that elite obsession as well.
11. Maybe our ‘lords and saviors’ should just keep their hands and opinions to themselves.

Doug April 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm

As others have alluded to, the American problem with drinking is a cultural one, not something inherent to alcohol. Basically, American drinking habits have been heavily influenced by Puritanism, the original Progressives (who managed to enact national Prohibition), and modern day progressivism/puritanism which goes under the guise of “public health.” Keeping our focus on the West, most Protestant countries have had similar experiences.

People in countries with healthy drinking cultures can’t even conceive of the idea that alcohol CAUSES violence and other problems. See here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15265317.

Prohibition is not a serious choice. So what to do about alcohol? I think the neo-Puritan “public health” approach of shaming people over drinking alcohol and framing it as a forbidden fruit for young adults only makes our current drinking culture worse. As soon as we get to the place where drinking is no big deal, and it must be noted, is not an excuse for or cause of bad behavior, the sooner we will solve our “drinking problem.”

A note for the skeptics of this approach: take a look at the characteristics of people who cause problems for the public while under the influence of alcohol, and I believe you will see all of the common traits associated with antisocial behavior. The role of alcohol in the causation of such behavior is vastly overestimated in my opinion.

Bret April 4, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Cowen writes: I am, however, consistent.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” (Emerson), or in Cowen’s case “robotic minds”. “Inquiring minds” want to know, is Cowen human? I’ve seen pictures and he looks human, but completely ignoring the enjoyment actual humans get from alcohol seems to indicate a rather robotic nature.

dirk April 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

As a heavy drinker who doesn’t own guns: great post. The accusations of hypocrisy are spot-on as is the relatedness of the two problems (alcohol and guns are only problems at their extremes of use, but that is where they become most related).

Didn’t the US manage to reduce the alcoholism rate substantially around the 1830′s with (private) anti-alcohol campaigns that succeeded through changes in attitudes but not laws? It’s not impossible to imagine that happening again, although it is hard to imagine it happening in the short run.

Urstoff April 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

For some reason, whenever the comparison to alcohol is brought up, gun control opponents start acting like metaphysicians, talking about the “purpose” or “nature” of guns, as if there is some intrinsic essence that defines the Platonic form of GUN, and that this essence (“they’re designed to kill!”) makes any deaths resulting from guns worse or more desirable to prevent than deaths from any other cause. I imagine this foray into silly speculative metaphysics is simply a way of relieving cognitive dissonance, supporting heavy regulations on the use of guns but not on the use of alcohol.

Urstoff April 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Whoops, should read “gun control proponents”, not opponents, obviously.

Bill Reeves April 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm

To clarify: I don’t mind people having opinions but I am tired of the attitude of social manipulation that underlies elite ‘reformist’ blather. The assumption that one knows ‘the way’ when tied to the omnipresent administrative state almost inevitably leads to coercion and ultimately corruption and violence. I think that type of moralizing should be what we focus on delegitimizing, not alcohol consumption.

Why can’t we just leave people alone?

Also, sorry for the screwed up spacing and numbering.

Lonely Libertarian April 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Great post – I was frankly disappointed with Tyler…

I have a fondness for Turner Classics – in movies of the 30s and 40s everyone drank (and smoked) – today we have made both of these into vices – but I am not sure we have a lot to show for it. As someone who now finds himself at life’s “margin” I am pretty sure I would opt for 10 more full, fun, great years than 20 years without good scotch and great food!

ortega April 4, 2013 at 1:54 pm

About alcohol, I much rather be in Athens than in Sparta.

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