How martial a country should the United States be? #guncontrol

Chris Blattman cites a recent estimate that Americans own 42% of the civilian guns in the world.

You’ll also see estimates that America accounts for about half of the world’s defense spending.  I believe those numbers are a misuse of purchasing power parity comparisons, but with proper adjustments it is not implausible to believe that America accounts for…about 42% of the defense spending.  Or thereabouts.

I see those two numbers, and their rough similarity, as the most neglected fact in current debates about gun control.

I see many people who want to lower or perhaps raise those numbers, but I don’t see enough people analyzing the two as an integrated whole.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts.  But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

Note that the parts of the country with the most guns, namely the South, are especially prominent in the military and support for the military.

More importantly, if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry.  And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

So who’s in this debate?

1. There are the anti-gun modern Democrats, who want Americans to own many fewer firearms, and who maybe favor slight cuts in defense spending, in order to spend more on redistribution.  They don’t come to terms with the reality that their vision for America’s international state requires a fairly martial supporting culture at home, including strong attachments to gun ownership.

By the way, citations of the Australian gun control experience are a good indicator of this position and its partial naivete; Australian pacifism can to some extent free ride upon American martial interest.  Another “warning sign” is if someone is incredulous that the San Bernardino attack is strengthening America’s attachment to a relatively martial internal culture, rather than leading to gun control.  That person is out of touch, even if he or she is right about the substance of the issue.

2. There is the radical, anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left.  Their positions on these issues are quite consistent, though this branch of the Left has disappeared almost entirely.

3. There are the libertarians, who hate martial culture on the international scene, but who wish to allow it or maybe even encourage it (personally, not through the government) at home, through the medium of guns.  They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case.  But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well.  They end up getting a lot of the gun liberties they wish to keep, but losing the broader cultural battle and somehow are perpetually surprised by this mix of outcomes.

I except non-American libertarians from these charges, and indeed many of them, albeit under the table, in fact support gun control as a libertarian and indeed pro-peace position.

4. There are the “right-wing conservatives.”  They support a martial ethic, they support America’s active foreign policy abroad, and they are anti-gun control for the most part.  And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South.  Like the old anti-war Left, their positions are consistent, and their positions are rooted in a cultural understanding of the issue.  They see the gun control movement as a war on America’s greatness, America’s martial culture and the material embodiments of said culture.  They don’t understand why “the world’s greatest nation” should give up its superpower role, and its supporting internal martial culture, all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides and maybe stopping a few shootings too.  To them it’s not close to being worth it.

OK, now look at who is winning this debate in terms of actual policy changes.  It is the conservatives, for the most part.  No matter how much you may disagree with them, they have the most coherent cultural and intellectual position, apart from the old anti-war Left.  And in a fight between the right-wing conservatives, and the old anti-war Left, for the hearts and minds of the American people, we already know that, for better or worse, the conservatives usually will win.

I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms.  But if you read something by a “really stupid conservative” on gun control, the more emotive and manipulative the text the better, it is often pretty close to the mark on the actual substance of what is at stake here.

Here is my earlier post, The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol.


Great points. Though I admit my N for this is small, I have found that among left-leaning college-educated individuals under 30, group 2 seems to be larger than you are suggesting......or they're just louder, and I'm biased by my surroundings...

I'm also in group 2. Don't know why it's getting short shrift here. I always find group 1 to be the most hypocritical and am surprised when I find anyone who subscribes to the idea as put above

It is absolutely getting short shrift here, in contradiction to the statistic which show that, while the number of guns owned is increasing, the percentage of the population who own guns is decreasing. As both groups 3 and 4 shrink in size relative to the national population, thus threatening their hold on power, they're increasing their arsenal. This can be seen as in lockstep with moves to restrict voting (through specious voting fraud claims and over-zealous purging of voter rolls) and gerrymandering (see Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania) by the right.

Odd claim, that, that gerrymandering is a partisan issue. Texas's 1990 Democratic gerrymander, the North Carolina 2000 Democratic gerrymander, and the current Maryland map are gerrymanders on par with anything seen in the states you mention. Indeed, the extreme nature of the previous Texas and North Carolina gerrymanders (both of which allowed Democrats to win 60% of the seats on less than 45% of the votes in bad years) that made the Republicans particularly unrepentant about turning the tables when they got power.

Gerrymandering is a perennial complaint by the losing party.

Gerrymandering is a general failing, only sometimes generally disapproved.

It deserves greater attention:

"June 29, 2015 – Open Primaries, a national political reform organization, offered enthusiastic praise today for the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to uphold the constitutionality of the independent redistricting commission previously approved by voter referendum in Arizona. In support of this movement in Arizona, Open Primaries is launching a campaign to help independent voters further reform the electoral process in Arizona."

But only Texas decided to re-gerrrymander in 2003, only two years after the previous redistricting (which admittedly had been drawn by the courts).

Probably because they've been shown repeatedly to have virtually no political power, just like the libertarians. The Democratic Party is sure every time to either nominate a clear adherent to group 1 like Hillary Clinton, or at the worst someone who "grows in office" and acts like it by, for example, effecting regime change in Libya, like President Obama. (Analogous GWB calling for a "humble foreign policy" and then changing his mind based on events.)

Group 2 and 3 are marginal and marginalized, regardless of my adherence.

Group 2 tends to subside, and get less press, when it's a Democrat administration bombing the hell out of the world.

This! They didn't disappear, but the NYT, The Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc reduced their coverage when it became politically inconvenient.

They exists but I don't know that they have much capacity to effect change. And they probably devote their energies to other issues where they can change opinions such as gay marriage.

Same here.

"...this branch of the Left has disappeared almost entirely." Only from the media you choose to consume, Tyler.

He's talking about having actual influence in policy and politics, not producing independent media that has as much effect as libertarian independent media.

Instead we have an Administration that was (cynically?) attacking the GOP Congress for not spending enough on defense. And this is supposed to be the absolute limit of how anti-war and anti-defense a Democrat can be nominated, much less elected.

The votes for the Iraq war resolution among democrats were: 82 yea 126 nay in the house and 29 yea 21 nay in the Senate.

Admittedly the numbers were far worse for the AUMF Afghanistan, but the Iraq vote was a better proxy for warmongering for the sake of warmongering. That's a substantial portion of the Democratic Party, but not all of it.

The only reason you had the large number of nos was because a Republican would have received credit if the thing went well. Which is the same reason you had all those- unfortunate- nos for the Ira war in the early 90s.

When a Democrat will score the political cheese if things go well- such as in Libya- all the anti-war progs bang the drums as loudly as they can.

That explanation fails to account for the difference between AUMF 2001 and AUMF 2002. Both were under a Republican president. It also fails to explain the pushback from democrats that Obama got regarding sending troops to Syria two years ago.

About the level of analysis one would expect from someone that uses the word "progs".

I would just note that Obama did propose sweeping defense cuts in 2014, although they were ultimately scuttled in the face of vocal opposition from the Republican party. (

I am a moderate 2, rather than a radical one. Is that unusual? Perhaps. I lean toward gun safety laws, less foreign entanglement, and dislike martial culture (or as I have referred to it in past threads, The Rise Of American Militarism, per Bacevich.)

Is it weird that in 1959 a poll reported 60% of the country was for a handgun ban? By 1965 that had dropped to 49%, by 1975 41%.

I'm not sure that fits the narrative, that earlier, closer to world wars, gun control was viewed in a kinder light, or that in the midst of Vietnam protest support would falllink

Maybe Gunsmoke made everyone OK with handguns, and first person shooters make another generation OK with AR's.

Bacevich is a one-trick pony, eschewing analysis in favour of promoting a cause. His works (articles and books) have started to look the same, unfortunately. I wonder if losing his son contributed to this? He used to have a unique voice in debates. I edge into moderate territory like you do, on these things, but perhaps from a more libertarian position. I hunt, have guns and enjoy them, but cannot fathom why anyone needs an AR, whose only purpose is to kill human beings.

"The New American Militarism" came out in 2005, which was pretty good timing. It seemed to be a correct but minority view at that point. His son died in service in 2007 ...

I would propose that the most relevant change in that period is overall trust in government. When crime is low, public order is undisturbed, and trust in government is high, individual people are less likely to feel a potential need for a firearm. In between 1959 and 1975 all of those things changes drastically. The increase in crime and incidents of rioting undermined the confidence in the wisdom of completely outsourcing personal protection. The incompetence with which the vietnam war was waged and (from 65-75) the perpetual rise in inflation were corrosive to opinion regarding the efficacy of government on any task. Last, after the watergate scandal anyone with a functioning imagination would have been able to envision a possibility that a future government would be not merely incompetent but actually malevolent. The idea of wholly entrusting your personal safety to the government with no backup plan in that case gets much less attractive. What's very interesting (and not obviously consistent with Tyler's framework) is that the polling trend you highlight coincided with a decline in the %age of households possessing a gun ( During that time period, the slice of the electorate that did not own a gun but opposed a handgun ban went from miniscule to something like 20%. In Tyler's taxonomy, libertarians would fall into this category, but it's way too big (especially given the time period) a piece of the electorate to credibly argue that this a libertarian group. Given more recent polling, this group today has to still be pretty large. Pew did polling ( ) and found that in non-gun-owning households there was a 31/66 split on whether or not it was more important to "protect gun rights" or "control gun ownership".

Bottom line, there is at least 20% of the electorate that does not feel a personal need to own a gun but is nonetheless pretty strongly supportive of the right to own one.I personally am in this group and would fit best if not perfectly in Tyler's "right wing conservative bucket", but I doubt that accurately describes most of that 20+%. Anecdotally, my sense is that the defining characteristic of that group is what you might call "brittle trust" in government- I don't personally, right-this-second, feel a need to own a gun, but I can very easily imagine a situation in which I would. I also am utterly, deeply mistrustful of anyone who is passionate about denying me that option.

I've made similar observations. I've also observed a sizable population of people who are a combination of 2 and 3: they love guns at home, and are radical anti-imperialists. Of course, this population was much larger back in the '60s and '70s (i.e. the Black Panther Party).

Was the British "we serve no red-coats here" Empire particularly martial in its years of naval glory?

One of the 'successes' of the Empire was the export of violence to the rest of world that defused political violence at home. Unlike its European neighbours it did not develop a standing army to police the home population; you will not find Victorian barracks next to railheads. As in most countries criminals had access to poorly manufactured guns, but the urban population had little experience of weapon handling from military experience or political conflict. Colonial officers would return with their side arms and shooting guns, but not common soldiers.
The US population was not well armed until the civil war, when the industrialisation of weapon production in the North in the closing years resulted in a massive surplus of surplus guns flooding post war communities, especially those aggressively expanding westwards. This profoundly affected American culture with stories of the wild west and conquering the 'injuns'. It has lasted to this day with most US dramas ending with shootouts, which conveniently removes the need for messy legal processes. By contrast Brits were sold 'Pax Britannia'; a fiction that a little bit of violence against heathen 'fuzzy wuzzies' was necessary to deliver the calm they enjoyed at home. While British drama had a lump of derring dos in the Empire there was a mix of class-based drawing rooms, Dickensian poverty and crime detection, with few resolutions domestic massacres.
It is bizarre how migrants to the US from all parts of the world adopt the frontier mentality. American gun problems are far deeper that gun control.

Americans had a lot of guns from the 17th Century onward.

What was the name of the historian who made up a critically acclaimed book about how Americans didn't have guns before the Civil War?

Michael A. Bellesiles


"Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture is a discredited 2000 book by Michael A. Bellesiles on American gun culture. The book is an expansion of a 1996 Journal of American History article that uses falsified research to argue that guns were uncommon during peacetime in the early United States and that a culture of gun ownership arose only much later.

It initially won the prestigious Bancroft Prize, but later became the first book in that prize's history to have its award rescinded. The revocation occurred after Columbia University's Board of Trustees decided that Bellesiles had "violated basic norms of scholarship and the high standards expected of Bancroft Prize winners."

Thanks to everyone for correcting me. However the sophistication and volumes of weapons after the Civil war were greater than before, and there was then a industry looking for customers. Americans do have a weird habit of arming civilians after their wars; the latest example- the militarisation of police forces after Iraq and Afghanistan. Other countries don't, which is getting back to the original enquiry about the experience of the British

You steal a country, you need guns.

Is that how the Huns stole countries?

They tried, but the Soviets had guns too.

An absurd statement.

The Native Americans stole no country, and yet they were as well-armed as the US military and better marksmen to boot.

Sam, do you seriously think that if the Natives were "as well armed" Jamestown would have been there a year later?


Anybody who doubts this should read about what Native American tribes on the frontier did to the Quakers who refused to fight. (no moral judgements, both sides had their atrocities.) Guns were necessary for survival. Even in Franklin's time raids got to within , what 20 miles of Philadelphia?

They had the Scots, and to a lesser extent the Irish, to fight their wars for them. Go look at the regiments that won India for them. No coincidence the British lost when they had to fight Ulster Scots in the American revolution. The American martial culture is to a large extent the bequest of the Scots. Read Jim Webb. It will also help you understand the martial culture. The American descendants of the Scots have a couple of millenia of history of fighting foreign oppressors. The Yankee puritan culture that wants to take the guns is the direct descendant of the English that did the oppressing (see Albion's seed). A century or two of peace does not erase that legacy or the suspicions.

As one of those atrocious Ulster Scots, I agree with you Anon. The southern and western states are over run with us. It is these regions that will keep the fight going to protect our freedoms from "enemies, foreign and domestic". The left end of the political spectrum is driven by the rejection of the concept of American exceptionalism. We are exceptional, in the sense that we do things that no one else in the world does. And the world has been made better because of it. The founding of our system of democracy was nothing like the world had ever seen before. But it had to be won and preserved by military force. This is an odd paradox. How can maximum liberty coexist with brute, military force? This is what the liberals of today don't get. But their ignorance imperils their own freedom.

Yes and no. The thing about the British Empire is that it didn't require a large standing army. Instead it got recruits in the colonies to do its fighting. Check out the number of Native Tribes that fought against the Colonies in the Revolutionary war. Or the Indians that filled the ranks of the British army in India, or Africans in the wars in Africa.

On the other hand Ireland's history from the 1750s to 1920s was really a story of an occupied nation trying desperately to get guns to fight off a standing army.

Tyler posts a lot of stuff that seems "off" but in a way you're reluctant to reject out of hand. It's nice that once in a while he just posts something completely insane, like this, to remind you that sometimes he seems "off" because he really is "off," not because you're missing something.

@Evan Harper - please explain why this is an off post. It's not even controversial in my mind, it's reasonable speculation.

Note, as Mary Beard could tell you, the Romans believed in gladiatorial games, brutal as they were (even back then), since they thought viewing such games would increase the military mindedness of the average Roman. Who said that? Martial? Or somebody. It's true that people who are afraid of blood don't like war. For example, most of you reading this would be squeamish to slit the throat of a chicken (I was too, before I started raising chickens, for pets or food, here in the Philippines; the business is picking up, thanks for asking). War historian John Keegan also feels that societies that slaughtered animals were more prone to attack militarily, more so than farming societies.

"For example, most of you reading this would be squeamish to slit the throat of a chicken ..."
Well, my mom used to do that (and I don't think of her as particularly martial), and so did every women in her family since it came to Brazil (except the rare richer ones, who could pay someone else do it for them), with the notable exception of my grandma, who gave it up because she pitied the chickens and ended up going vegetarian, but we always regarded her as a great person, the best among us, but (exactly for this reason) we wouldn't let her mind the store, so to speak. We, in Brazil, call this kind of person a moral reserve. Everyone else would slit the throat of a chicken with no hesitations. How are the odds that one of the few countries that never, ever fought a war of aggression would be a country where, until a relatively recent urbanization, women (because it fell among the general kitchen stuff under the division of work prevailing back then; if necessary men would have done it too) were taught to kill chickens in the most bloody way?

Well things have taken an odd turn here. Brazil is one of the most bloody and violent countries on early (50,000 homicides a year vs 12,000 in the USA).

American population is 1.6 times bigger than Brazil's. And even with restrictions to gun owership (an outright ban was defeated on the ballot -- we solved the Malcolm X dilemma by keeping the bullets and the ballot), porous borders and corruption assures a reliable supply of guns (if American criminals, too, get their hands on Armed Forces-only weapons, I would say you have bigger problems than handguns). Add to the mix, obsolete laws, bad law enforcement (sometimes the cops themselves commit the crimes) and consequently few crimes ever solved. All things considered, the common Brazilian shows remarkable self-restrain. The criminal element, however, not so much.
And more to Mr. Cowen's point, Brazil has little in the way of a "martial culture". Never fought a war of conquest, always went out of its way to settle disagreements by peaceful means, always waited the enemy strike first. There is, among law-abiding citizens, little in the way of a gun culture (we are told by Conservatives that it IS one reason for the sky-high violence numbers). The only region that has anything approaching America's gun/martial culture is Brazil's South because it was the focal point of many foreign invasions and many rebellions against the Empire, not to mention some wars pitting some elite groups against other, also they house a food chunk of Brazil's Army and its demography skews more toward White and recent-ish European immigration, so they feel alienated. Even they, though, are probably thinking more of their forefathers' cavalry charges than of assault rifles.

I'm watching the Netflick TV series "Narcos" about Pablo Escobar, I think a Brazilian directed it. I like the Spanish dialog, with English subtitles, though it's an English film. Authentico.

BTW I had a crippled chick the other day, and I used a shovel to shop its head off (I was too busy to get my trusty knife). The head came clean off, and what was interesting, the eye kept looking at me for maybe 15 to 20 seconds, before it closed. I swear the chick's head was alive and looking at me, saying 'why you do that to me, mama?' (chicks imprint with their human feeders and think of them as mom). For this exact reason, the UK Humane society says that decapitating birds, even with a clean stoke, is inhumane, since their scientists have reasoned the head is alive (and feels pain, though it cannot squawk) for up to ten seconds after decapitation. So they recommend an electric stun gun, then either halal type bleeding (exsanguination) or decapitation. I got no time for that, so I just slit their throats, or, if they are chicks, just use a common garden shovel and take their head off, hopefully on the first strike.

"I think a Brazilian directed it.
Yep. the latest Robocop's director.The actor who played Pablo Escobar is Brazilian, too. After some movies and soap operas, he got incredibly famous in Brazil playing a ruthless cop/torturer.
According to Wikipedia, "Narcos" is a Telemundo (NBC-owned)-Netflix co-production.
"I swear the chick’s head was alive and looking at me"
It may as well have been. There are evidences that it can happen to rats and humans, but it is not without controversy:

Apparently, the body can outlive its association with the head, too:

A rapid drop in pressure in even 1 carotid artery results in one's losing consciousness in an eyeblink. Hard to believe one would be aware after decapitation when just enough pressure on 1 carotid (for which there's a jiu-jitsu move) puts you to sleep.

It is not reasonable speculation. It is talking out of an orifice that is not on one's face, and I can't put it any kinder than that. Chart countries by defense spending per GDP per capita and by private guns per GDP per capita. If what Tyler is saying about martial culture has merit, then there should be some relationship. There isn't.

Looking at the top 15 spenders on defense this way, the US and Iraq are off the chart for private gun ownership. Those two have more than double the gun ownership of the next highest - France. Saudi Arabia and Israel have higher defense spending per capita than the US but gun ownership equal to the remaining 11.

"It is not reasonable speculation." It seems you are declaring it not reasonable, because you don't agree with the premise. Not because the premise is necessarily wrong.

I think our host is confusing pugnacious with martial. Prussia (later Germany) was a historically martial country with a powerful and extremely able army, but the key characteristics were discipline and stoicism; I don't believe the population was particularly well armed. The United States has always had a very extensive gun culture but has not had a martial culture; our army has historically been fairly small and not really at the high skill levels of the better European armies; and was not really culturally significant. Most of the significant European novels of the nineteenth century have at least one officer of the army or navy (even Jane Austen), but few of the American ones do - but the American novels typically have more guns in them.

Good point.

Perhaps "martial" should be interpreted more broadly. Nearly all of our cops are ex-military. We have some of the most aggressive cops of any liberal Western society. And we have a public that mostly supports them when they shoot people. In a sense, that makes us a "martial" society.

Some, a lot, are ex military, but the worst ones are criminal science majors. High 90's of those who get shot by a cop deserve it.
I can't defend all of course, but even the headline ones are at least 50/50 justifiable.

The worst are the civilians because they feel inadequate as compared to the veterans, so they end up being more catholic than the pope. What's needed is to bar veterans rather than giving them affirmative action. The ability and willingness to wage war is incompatible with protect and serve.

And you can only get those high justification rates if you use a reasonable fear standard that only exists for cops and no one else.

It's 2015. Movies probably provide a better picture of culture. Indeed, I've never a seen a movie where the military is the good people and war is a glamorous thing apart from movies produced in the US, China or Russia.

James Bond movies are all about the glamorous nature of covert Cold Warriors. So you'd better add the UK to that list.

I also thought about James Bond but the character is not precisely a poor country guy in a military unit dying to save us from evil. James Bond drinks for pleasure, gambles, has fun and never dies, he is very far away from all the dead characters in Saving Private Ryan or Fury. If a character similar to James Bond appears in these stories, he's the first to die to save the team from enemy fire. The libertine finds redemption in sacrifice.

That seems pretty glamorous to me.

+1. All the way until WWII, the U.S. maintained a small standing army but had lots of gun ownership. The plot of the under-appreciated The Americanization of Emily from 1964 involves a crazy American admiral whose biggest fear is that Congress will scrap the Navy after WWII 'just like they always do' (or at least, always did). The Swiss own a lot of guns but a far from having a 'martial' culture or interest in acting as a global policeman. And remember that the founding myth of the American Republic is rag-tag bands of civilians with muskets hiding behind rocks and trees taking on the professional British redcoats. Lastly note that it was the progressive left, not the conservative or libertarian right, that originated the 'global policeman' role, starting with the entry into WWI ('the war to end all wars') and the subsequent attempt to join the League of Nations -- which Republicans blocked (in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to keep the US out of the next European conflagration).

Or "frontier culture", perhaps. Although that probably doesn't apply to urban gun violence.

Is it possible that in true frontier culture, gun ownership as more like shovel ownership than a political identity?

Probably, but it becomes politicized when there are no more frontiers but people still want to maintain their culture. Then again, I doubt frontier culture explains much of the Deep South.

"I think our host is confusing pugnacious with martial."

Perhaps, and the whole militia culture, the number of people on both sides of the law who want the ability to fight the cops supports that.

Why exactly do we sell body armor to civilians and bank robbers?

Well the US is about the only country where I have lived, or heard from, where soldiers are held in high regard. Most places are indifferent and in Latin America they have either scorn or outright hatred for their soldiers.

Good point, but the martial culture allowed the U.S. to quickly come up to speed. Audie Murphy (note the Ulster Scot lineage) didn't come out of nowhere. My presbyterian pastor went from Arkansas farm boy to the fighting retreat from Chosen reservoir in 6-9 months. That war saved south korea from great leader and several generations of slavery. If you want the U.S. to be able to do that, then be careful about stepping on the martial culture.

"Australian pacifism" is free-riding on the US? Australia is the only country in the world to have fought alongside the US in every major conflict since WW2, from Korea to Iraq.

Maybe, but in a world if American hegemony and remaining at America's good side, they can be safe (at least, against conventional enemies) at a lower price than if they had to fend by themselves. I doubt even the British would die dor Canberra. Evidently Americans don't do that out of the kindness of their hearts (mostly), but it is one outcome of a world where the USA are a superpower.

"they can be safe (at least, against conventional enemies) at a lower price than if they had to fend by themselves." Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Australia has fought in all of them. It's an island country without significant external enemies, the last risk being World War II. WTF were they doing fighting in Iraq? In what alternate world would they have fought more? The High Castle?

Australia, a rich country with a small population, doesn't have to fear foreign conquest thanks to American hegemony. America contained Japan and contains China. Without the United States, Australia is to the big players as East Timor was to Indonesia.

Post WWII Singapore has done just fine without anything like the level of military support "pacifist" Australia has provided the US, despite being much more analogous to East Timor in the region than Australia.

Yet Singapore spends, as a fraction of the GDP, almost two times more than Australia on defense, not to mention having 2-year conscription (and onenwoukdmthink they, as American allies, are as protected by American implicit and explicit obligations as Australia is). Australians are free-riding on American hegemony .

If by free riding you mean making no contribution to the benefit received, no one with even a cursory understanding of Australia's actions under the ANZUS treaty since its inception could possibly agree with you. No country on earth has supported US military action with "boots on the ground" as consistently as Australia.

If by free riding you mean gaining a disproportionate benefit from costs incurred, residents of Silicon Valley and Manhattan are too (perhaps to a greater degree).

My main issue with the original post is that isn't clear to me that the world's largest economy wouldn't take actions to impose global order out of self interest regardless of its domestic culture. The alternative would be to cede decision making to a supa-national organisation like the UN which the US clearly is not comfortable with (understandably). So US hegemony does impose costs to other nations, its the lack of ability to hold the US to account if it acts unilaterally, Australia included. Australia chooses to support this out of self interest, but I don't think it really meets the definition of free riding.

I mean taking out much more than they put in. Americans are the ones paying the price of American hegemony, little countries like Australia mostly free ride (or cheap ride, if it were a word). Without the USA, Australia would have to spend real money on defense and probably adopt conscription instead of simply offering token military support.
"If by free riding you mean gaining a disproportionate benefit from costs incurred, residents of Silicon Valley and Manhattan are too (perhaps to a greater degree)."
Well, they help to fund the most powerful military the world has ever seen.

"Australia, a rich country with a small population, doesn’t have to fear foreign conquest thanks to American hegemony"

By the time Australia 'needs' the USA to defend it, the USA will be in no condition to do so.

Btw, thirty years ago Australia was reasonably autonomous in its foreign policy, trade relations & defence posture.

Today, its an American client state.

"Today, its an American client state."
As it should be in its present circumstances even if it is a burden for the USA. It should have been absorved by the Empire of Japan or China a long time ago, but the Americans, out of Wilsonian idealism keep an irrational state alive.

Shorter Tyler: people who like guns like war, and people who like war like guns. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't understand "culture".

That was my reading too, or at least the part that stood out to me. It is not clear why there is some inconsistency inherent in liking guns and not wanting to go abroad and shoot foreigners, (or yourself for that matter). Tyler's point strikes me as what someone says when they have never actually spent any time around people who own guns.

"I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts."

This does indeed "beg the question" in the correct use of the term, in that it assumes its conclusions. I see no evidence presented that reducing Americans' possession of guns is more difficult than making the country "less martial," nor that conservative supporters of gun rights are primarily concerned with how guns relate to the military posture of the country. (In fact, the most common arguments tend to be related to self-defense against criminals or an overzealous government.) There are good reasons not to believe the latter, given the existence of countries with both strong gun ownership and limited international intervention - e.g., Switzerland - and an international posture with strong gun control - e.g., China, or even the UK. This argument also puts words in Democrats' mouths by assuming that they favor slight cuts to defense spending as a matter of policy preference instead of as a political strategy, given the country's general preference for international interventions.

Not sure this is thought through well enough to be a coherent theory.

You can probably demonstrate a connection between "martial culture" and international interventionism. China is a very martial country. The UK also glorifies its military achievements more than any other European country other than France, which is also interventionist. The connection between rates of gun ownership and martial culture is not particularly evident, however. (Finland for example has high rates of gun ownership).

Possibly also relevant to point out that WW2 era Germany and the Soviet Union also had high levels of gun control, yet engaged in a great deal of expansionary martial behavior. To put it mildly.

It is not relevant because the idea that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had high levels of gun control is simply a myth propagated by gun rights proponents in the US. The Nazis actually liberalized gun laws for 95% of the population and encouraged gun ownership among German men. Restricting the rights of Jews, who were less than 2% of the population, to own guns is not "a high level of gun control", just discrimination. The Soviet Union is a little more complex, but because of the civil war Soviet society was awash with guns well into the 1930s. When collectivization began, the government began to confiscate guns from the peasants to prevent resistance. The fact that the government succeeded for the most part in taking peoples' guns is an interesting indication that an armed civilian has little chance defending his freedom versus a well organized state security apparatus with no compunctions about killing resisters. If the US government ever decided to take guns from US citizens, it would probably be an even easier task than it was in the USSR.

For the sake of discussion, let's grant both your points.

1: If the Nazis liberalized gun control laws after they came into power, how did they get into power as a martial, expansionist party when there were so many gun control laws already in effect? By the cultural argument made in this post by TC, there is reason to think that the lack of firearms in the society due to the laws should have kept such a party out of power, or at least very limited in their behavior in a Tullock constrained dictator sense. Instead we see a a nation with few guns and high levels of gun control deciding to take over most of Eastern Europe, then most of the Western parts too. Still doesn't work.

2: The Soviet example says either that gun ownership and culture and gun control laws are probably independent. Lots of people had guns when they could, and didn't when they couldn't. Either way, lots of gun control didn't lead to a culture that limited the extent of expansionism and foreign military involvement by the government.

Either way you cut it, ownership or non-ownership of guns does not directly tie to governmental behavior with regards to military action in an obvious way. It seems much more likely that governments will engage in foreign wars and police actions as they see fit and within the acceptance of their citizens for foreign wars, with little influence of gun ownership.

"Finland for example has high rates of gun ownership"

And that has some relationship with their partially successful resistance in the Winter War. (Relative to Russia's original aims, and the very unequal resources between the two sides.)

But mostly it is sparsely populated and people like to hunt. The Poles have fought the Russians many times but don't have the level of gun ownership that Finland has.

@Peter - yes, my read was that Tyler is using "martial culture" to reflect a country's desire to project force externally - so I was using "armed interventionism" as a proxy.

My basic point was the same as yours, which is that the relationship between martial culture and gun control is empirically very weak. So I don't think too highly of this theory.

The premise for this post is absurd.

And the substance of it is just applying a common two-dimensional characterization of American politics in the context of two issues and using the (false, IMO) assumed premise to claim that some groups have incoherent policy preferences.

One word: Switzerland.

And Andorra.

And Thailand.

Switzerland has 8 million people, they couldn't play world police even if they wanted to.

Maybe they could, if they had an asymmetrical technological advantage. Look at the Macedonians, whose phalanx helped them conquer far and wide. The Swiss, like the Macedonians, have similar peoples near them, ripe for the initial phase of conquest to bolster one's forces. Regarding technology, for Switzerland, I'd think orbital platforms launching rods and proven willingness to use them would be enough. Turtledove should get right on it.

No, but they used to provide a large number of mercenaries.

So the swiss gun culture is in no way connected to the swiss foreign policy position? They have been neutral and armed themselves accordingly.

Israel is an interesting example of a martial nation with pretty tight gun control laws.

Perhaps in countries where the vast majority of males are exposed to fire-arms in the context of being a conscript - Israel, the USSR, Switzerland, for example - guns quickly lose the romantic association they seem to hold for Americans, and are seen simply as tools and a reminder of a fairly unpleasant time of life.

So by that rational veterans in the US shouldn't care much about gun ownership..

Most US Veterans aren't conscripts however. That being said, there were plenty of Vietnam vets who were and they still like their guns.

"Rational" would have nothing to do with it. There is a wide gulf between serving in an active war, conscript or not, where your gun was your security blanket, and serving as an unwilling conscript in a peacetime army with poor morale where cleaning and maintaing your weapon was just yet another chore you needed to do. The emotional attachment of Vietnam or WWII vets to their weapons is perfectly rational when viewed from that perspective, as is the lack of affection most of my German 40-something peers have for guns.

There isn't much good hunting to be done in Israel either.

They insist everyone has to be able to hit the target?

"if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry. And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War. Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public. And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry."

Nah! Americans want guns to protect themselves from Americans not from ISIS, Al Qaeda, Aliens or other foreign threat. I don't have the numbers to back it up but I think civil ownership of guns is part of the American life since the early years of the foundation of the country when foreign intervention was meager or related to slave trade (first to get slaves and later to block it).

"On the other hand, the right to bear arms is inherent under English ideas, and this alone, with the corresponding right of political assembly, has served largely to maintain English liberty"
--Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

Guns are an ethnic pride thing for British-Americans.

Guns are like how NASCAR is an ethnic pride parade for the people who aren't allowed to hold an ethnic pride parade.

or don't need to hold one. Who wants to hold an ethnic pride parade?!

The World Cup seems pretty popular.

In the USA? I doubt it.
If the World Cup were an ethnic pride parade, neither White Brazilians would cheer at the Black players nor would have the French cheer at players like Zidane and Thuram. No, it is a national pride parade. Soccer is war by other means.

"Soccer is war by other means." I like this.

So do I. Soccer is clearly ritualized war, with is important for a country plagued by self-doubt and divisions . Also as someone noted, we are deeply annoyed that we overthrew two Emperors, but were not allowed to kill any of them. Soccer provides ritual killings of (or at the hands of) the enemy. Parodying Aldous Huxley's Mustafa Mond, the emotions of Louis XVI's execution without the messy guillotine thing.

@Thiago Ribeiro I think that Thierry Henry would say that not all French, Italian and Spanish futbol fan cheer for their Black players.

He faced racist incidents outside France and surely must have suffered some unpleaseantries at home too, but I think in a general way he is seen as a French idol, a World Cup champion. In Brazil, there have been a few racist incidents where team supporters insulted the adversary's Black players, but it is a rare behavior, and Brazilians have always closed ranks with the national team. As the Arab saying supposedly goes: " I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the World."

The proper technical use of firearms is also a point of ethnic pride in my opinion. I frequent firearm forums, and the inner city gang banger who holds his gun sideways without using the sights and misses his targets as a result is a common subject of derision. Also, the Mexican guy who puts the gun in his pants (it's called "Mexican style") without a holster and shoots himself in the ass is also subject to mockery.

I would say, "Scotch-Irish," a.k.a. red necks. Some Civil War books contend that group and its pugnacity manned the Confederate armies.

Markets in everything - gun control. When people are talking about gun control, they’re not talking about the regime's many failures.

Seventh consecutive year; Barack Hussein Obama is Gun Salesman of the Year.

Any day now, he will get your guns, burn your Bibles and make you abort your children. He is just biding his time, to lure you into a false sense of security.

Actually, most of the confederate army and a significant part of the Union armies. Grant was scots-irish. But yes, I think Sailer is wrong, gun culture is an outgrowth of the Ulster Scots historical experience with informal resistance to foreign oppression and the need to fight outside of formal militaries.

They're an ethnic pride thing for the Scots-Irish whose norms and culture have become the baseline for the white American working- and lower-middle classes. Maybe the descendants of the old Dixie aristocracy, too, but I'm not convinced they still exist as a distinct group or in significant numbers.

Except for maybe having some antique rifles and shotguns inherited from long dead ancestors, I don't really see most New England WASPs and their Yankee cousins across the country (except for possibly the Mormons) being hardcore gun enthusiasts.

Here in the German and Scandinavian American Midwest, guns are popular, but mostly for hunting, and not for their own sake.

In the German Texas Hill Country, guns are as popular as they are in the deep South.


I'm from western Kansas. Believe me, I know. Germanic Midwesterners generally have a more practical, sober view of guns than Scots-Irish, highland Southerners. For the latter, guns are totemic symbols of cultural identity, political independence, and masculine status (i.e. penis extensions) all rolled up in one. Hence, the intense fear of mass confiscation. To them, that would be a form of castration.

@Arentino: "In the German Texas Hill Country..."

...where the Germans have largely been assimilated by the Scots-Irish who established the dominant culture of Anglophone Texas.

It's a phallas. How more obvious could it be?

I like the theory by TC a lot but indeed Israel and Switzerland might contradict the theory a bit. I don't know about Russia. Russia is quite full of weapons and proud of it.

Full of weapons? Maybe, but they're all illegal. Civilian guns are banned, full stop. I hear you can get an exception if you are exceptionally wealthy or exceptionally well-connected, but aside from a few oligarchs, there are no legal civilian gun owners. Of course, the mafia just buys them from the military, so there is quite a lot of heavy weaponry in criminal hands, but that's not to do with laws.

The UK under Tony Blair had both strong gun control and an ideological commitment to an "ethical foreign policy" which was strongly interventionist. Blair had no military background. I suspect that an acceptance of risk - and a subsequent track record better than that of Blair's to reward this - would be sufficient to maintain this.

Limited anecdotal evidence suggests to me that UK front line forces generally have a very high tolerance for risks of all sorts, and a desire for excitement, and that the government fosters this by selection and by providing adventurous sports. Obviously those actually using guns will need specific experience of this, but other forms of excitement appear to be sufficient for risk tolerance. Similarly, I suspect that guns are not essential to increase the risk tolerance of the general population - but even a risk tolerant population requires some return for its risk, which Blair failed to provide.

E.g. "Do you find parachuting exciting?" "No. You see, the first time I jumped the main chute failed and I had to use the reserve. After that, all my other jumps have been pretty boring."

I think your analysis grid to be very useful. It can also explain why European military interventions abroad usually end up being rejected by their population after a short while.

And explains why European "interventionism" is inconsistent.

The thing is Tyler, every time one of you state-worshipping fascists writes a post like this, 4 or 5 real Americans decide to go out and buy anohter thousand rounds of rifle ammo and do some target practice. You slimy little fascists have no idea on the world of hurt you are preparing for yourselves. On one day this year, Black Friday, Americans bought enough arms to equip another Marine Corps and 4 Army divisions.

do the real Americans buy the rounds of ammo because of Tyler's writing? Or is it just a coincidence? Is it just Tyler, or are there lots of state-worshipping fascist writers motivating the purchase of arms in the US? This is fascinating.

The casuality seems to run the other way round. Because "real Americans" do such things, people write about them.

Well, I am a libertarian american who does not own a gun. Everytime folks start talking up gun control I get an urge to go buy one. I am a fence sitter and articles like these do nudge me towards arming.

As a general matter I know several folks that most here would call gun nuts, and they do in fact purchase arms and munitions in response to threats (real or imagined) of curtailment of gun rights.

I think John Cunningham" post was overly rude and I don't like the "world of hurt' comment. But I do think there is some pretty strong evidence that talk of gun control leads to purchases of guns.

To be frank, I read Mr. Cowen's text in a different way. What he is saying is, even American civilians are/were to be disarmed, it is incompatible with the role Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, seem to see America playing.
And, honestly, I doubt most "real Americans" (whatever it may mean) Cunningham mentions need to be nudged to buy guns. They always will be able to invent a justification to so do (if they feel like justifying it, that is, as far as I know, they don't need), from Mexicans to the evil Feds to the Illuminati to gangs to other "real Americans".

And in Israel you see soldiers with weapons at every corner. Even when they are not on duty they seem to be allowed to carry them.

I imagine Tyler is thinking of the movie "American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood, which ties together domestic gun culture and overseas militarism.

I live on the fringes of the entertainment industry district, and one thing I've noticed over the years is that movie guys tend to be gun nuts. Steven Spielberg, for example, won't talk about it, but he has a spectacular collection of handmade Italian shotguns, each one costing about 6 figures. Each movie he makes, Spielberg orders a custom silver-plated shotgun engraved with scenes from his movie. It shouldn't come as a surprise therefore that "American Sniper" was originally developed by Spielberg, but he handed it off to Eastwood because he couldn't get the big budget he wanted.

Being an aficionado of handmade Italian shotguns strikes me as being an "unamerican" sort of gun nut. That is the sort of affectation common among European aristocrats and prosperous German businessmen.

It's fun to visualize the history of Hollywood over the last 45 years as the tale of The Friends of John Milius, gun nut supreme who wrote the .44 Magnum speech for "Dirty Harry." Milius only had a few moderate hit movies like Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, but his proteges have made unbelievable piles of money.

For example, Milius introduced Spielberg to his lifelong passion -- clay pigeon shooting -- around 1970.

Or consider Kathleen Kennedy, who is one of the most important women executives in Hollywood history. She produced E.T. and is now president of Lucasfilm. How'd she get started in the movie business? Milius hired her as his assistant in the late 1970s.

Milius had much more success as a writer. He wrote the USS Indianapolis monologue in Jaws, for one, and the first draft of Apocalypse Now.

BTW, Apocalypse Now wasn't really pro-gun: hero Willard kills villain Kurtz with a machete at the end--not a gun--and basically all scenes in the movie where people are killed with guns/projectiles are depicted as kinda crazy and chaotic.

It's not obviously a pro-war movie either. It strongly questions the sanity of American foreign policy and the efficacy of how we conduct our war efforts. And more than anything, I think it underlines the sharp contrast between martial life and civilized life--as opposed to calling for them to be blended.

I think The Wind and the Lion is a terrific movie.

Is it me or is there no line of causation in our host's analysis. What is the evidence that a martial culture leads to an activist international role or vice versa? Plenty of commenters here have pointed to examples (pre ww1 America, great britain) that even call into question the existence of a correlation.

This is the historical myth that pro-gun conservatives like to spread. The Soviet Union did not have particularly strong, or at least effective, gun control. Particulary in Siberia I recall gun ownership being fairly widespread. Thanks to WWII, there were plenty of surplus weapons floating around the Ukrainian and Belarussian countryside for years after the war. It wasn't particularly hard to acquire a fire arm in the USSR, and far less dangerous politically to acquire a fire arm on the black market (if you were otherwise considered loyal) than to acquire dissident literature. That demonstrates perhaps the ineffectiveness of an armed civilian versus an organized state security apparatus. The Soviet Union also had an extremely martial internal culture - every male had to serve in the military, meaning that almost all men were very familiar with fire arms. Teenagers were taught to shoot guns at summer camps and play military games. The military was the most respected institution of the state and one of the USSR's main strengths. Seems to me the USSR fits Tyler's thesis very well. The Soviet Union of course owed its very existence to armed popular militias attacking and overthrowing an oppressive government that had instituted high taxes - a story right out of the right-wing Americans dream.

South Korea and Israel also both have highly militarized societies along with relatively low rates of civilian gun ownership and restrictive gun control laws. The common thread here seems to be mass conscription.

Australia sent a lot of men to fight in various wars, but never really had a "martial culture" or a gun culture. There was a certain amount of myth about bronzed bushmen but the majority of the population has always been urban.

When I was young around the time of the Vietnam war there was not the almost religious worshipping of the Gallipoli soldiers that there is now. The respect to veterans was respect to men doing a tough job but not to "warrioirs" in the way it seems to be in the US.

While Oz did feel protected by first the UK and then the US, the real protection is geography and while the Brisbane line is myth the idea is real enough.

Tyler seems to think the attitude to civilian guns here is pacifism. I think it is more about civilisation... About people thinking there is no reason to fear your fellow Australian. I think the US is a lot more about fear generally than Oz is.

Why that is I don't know but the temprements of the two countries are different enough that to compare them is useless.

I really dont understand the connection between foreign policy and civilian gun ownership. I would say these issues are completely independent. There is a severe mental health problem in the US (though this is by no means an american exclusive), this is the real problem. The problem with gun ownership is a direct consequence of this.

So, gun ownership is a sign of severe mental health issues?

I think it's more likely you live in a bubble and assume the view point of the bubble represents the Sane Norm.

I *think* Moreno Klaus was saying that the US has a severe mental health problem and that the availability of guns exacerbates this by allowing the mentally ill to kill lots of people very easily.

I'm not sure how true or predictive a statement that is, BTW. Does the US have a higher percentage of mentally ill walking around than other high gun-ownership countries like Switzerland?

There might be something to be said for it. I note that most discussions about gun control focus on reducing violence and suicides. The gun control side claims that reducing the number of tools that people use towards the ends of violence towards others or suicide will reduce those ends, and ignore the question of why those ends seem common, and whether some other tool will be substituted to achieve those ends. This seems rather odd to me, especially coming from TC here.

I am not sure about the mentally ill or suicide angle, but it isn't clear to me that if people want to kill themselves we shouldn't be asking why that might be, instead of taking guns away from everyone whether they want to kill themselves or not. As to murder, I suspect that the rate of murders would drop precipitously if the war on drugs were abolished. In that case, limiting guns would probably have little effect on the rate of "gun deaths" other than pushing some of those into "other weapon deaths".

whether some other tool will be substituted to achieve those ends

There is a decent amount of empirical evidence that preventing a suicide and getting the person through a 2-3 month critical period means they will NOT go on to kill themselves by other means. The relative ease of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge --- and people who either are stopped at the last moment or survive the attempt -- provides a good data set.

And I personally have come very close to suicide a couple of time and may well have done it had I had a gun in the house. (I grew up in a family of gunowners and am very familiar with gun safety and operation.)

You are making my point in a way. You are assuming they are prevented from committing suicide by not having access to a gun, instead of using pills and alcohol, rope, a belt, razors, whatever. You also are glossing over why they want to kill themselves in the first place.

The discussion focuses too much on the tool, and not the reasons. No one seems to care much about the question of why people who live in cities kill each other so much, but it is pretty clear that the murder rate is a city problem, not a rural problem.

@Eric Hammer there is ample evidence that barriers to suicide make a statistically significant difference.

This thread reminds me of the story about the blind men and the elephant. Thanks everyone; I needed a laugh.

Then another blind man shouted at a distance, "What are you all talking about? There is nothing there".

A lot of confounding factors. The US may be historically pro interventionist because a) it has been able to afford to be given its economic dominance and b) it's got the most to lose and gain for the same reasons. Those reasons are independent of a pro gun outlook.

The Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest always had a huge number of guns for hunting, but it was less militarist in the first half of the 20th Century than other parts of the country (e.g., Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin voting against both WWI and WWII).

I think this is still true today. Consider Minnesota with a lot of hunters but also generally supports candidates on the less interventionist end of the political spectrum. Some have traced this die to patterns if immigration and settlement, but today it could be due just a reflection if the urban-suburban/rural split in political preferences.

Today, the most aggressively interventionists elites tend to be Jews, but Jews don't hunt much or serve in the military much. Jews who love guns in private like Spielberg tend to stay mum about it in public. (An out of the closet right wing Jewish gun nut like John Milius, who wrote Apocalypse Now, was considered in bad taste in public, although obviously he was beloved in private in Hollywood.)

But it would be interesting to overhear a private debate between, say, Milius and Michael Bloomberg on "Guns: Are they Good for the Jews?" Spielberg could moderate. I imagine Milius would find persuasive Tyler's argument that if elites expect Americans to fight for Jewish interests abroad, elites have to honor American gun culture at home. Bloomberg would probably be aghast at first, but he might come around eventually: he seems like an urbanite who doesn't know much about his fellow Americans, but is smart enough to learn.

This reminds me, Tyler left out a category, which is non-libertarian Americans who are relatively isolationist on foreign policy but strongly support gun rights at home. Like for example, probably most people who read your blog, Steve.

It always comes back to da jooos with you.

Point #3 illustrates the logical self-contradiction of "libertarianism"--we need laws (rules) for there to be voluntary exchange, but all laws restrict liberty at some level (here, by the way, is my critique of Milton Friedman:

"Australian pacifism can to some extent free ride upon American martial interest. "

Australian pacifism? These idiots followed the US into Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. How are Australians pacifists? When?

Weird nobody comments on the absurd post that Tyler is linking to, saying that to be consistent, alcohol should be banned as well... I am not sure if he was serious or just trolling, but still...

Why should we comment on that? That's an old post and not the topic of this thread.

If martialism were an effective counterterrorism tool, the US would be the safest society in history.

It is, except for the Gun Free Zones.

"If martialism were an effective counterterrorism tool, the US would be the safest society in history. "

Swoosh goes the point over your head. American Martialism is about choosing Liberty over Safety.

More guns and more interventionism by the military are believed to make us safer not less safe. It's logical if mistaken; the correlation between more guns and more interventionism and safety is shaped like a bell curve, going up to it's vertex and then down. We are way past the vertex. As an economist, Cowen should have an interest in people thinking rationally, not just about work, leisure, consumption, and saving, but in all aspects of their lives, especially those that threaten their (and your) existence. Why is it that economists, as with people generally, can think so rationally about some things and not others?

I live in a neighborhood near a lot of movie and TV studios where the homeowners tend to be liberal gun nuts, especially since watching the Korean shopkeepers defend themselves (bang bang) during the 1992 Rodney King riot.

It's like in the scene in 21 Jump Street where Tatum Channing and Jonah Hill are being chased by bad guys so they commandeer a pretty girl's pink Volkswagen Beetle, but the bad guys catch up with them, so Channing tells Hill to look in the glove compartment for a gun. Hill thinks that's hopeless, pointing out that they are in the girliest car imaginable so of course the owner wouldn't have have a gun. But Channing insists, and sure enough Hill finds a tiny girl gun in the glove compartment.

It's really quite a safe way to live.

They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case. But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well.

Are you defining "being more pro-gun control" as being culturally opposed to owning guns, while steadfastly opposing most regulation as doing more harm than good and being unworkable? That seems to be what you argue regarding alcohol and other drugs. Most gun regulations are unworkable on practical grounds, and the "easy" solutions tend to have the same sort of drawbacks (especially for the poor, etc.) as the war on drugs, the war on carrying or transferring sums of cash privately, or the war on not cutting your grass in the middle class way in small suburbs of St. Louis.

There are, I think, plenty of libertarians who are not part of a martial culture nor wish to encourage the owning of guns, but think that gun control would be utterly unworkable.

+1. Also, valuing cultural change that would lead to the US being less militarist, and being willing to accept a possible (though far from certain, for the reasons other commenters have pointed out) increase in public support for gun restrictions as the price of that, is not the same as actually favoring such restrictions.

There are indeed positive links between the military and civilian gun culture;
1. A strong military benefits from civilians experienced in a gun culture
2. A strong military creates personnel who re-enter civilian life and reinforce the gun culture.
3. A civilian gun culture is a counterbalance to the military, to prevent tyranny.

So, theoretically, one would expect these to correlate. It's interesting, particularly the way that civilians who oppose big government will serve in the military; and so many military members are small government advocates. Presumably there is a tipping point at which the government risks losing the ability to recruit, and the support of veterans.

The counter-examples some commentators bring up highlight cases where the government has increased its monopoly on violence; typically reinforcing with tyranny. So the link (3) is broken. How does this impact (1) and (2)? In some cases, they may have created a subculture that serves the state, under arms...

If you're talking about the US, at least, the links between the military and civilian gun culture are pretty weak. For one thing, in the vast military complex only a few normally handle guns in a military capacity, actual combat infantrymen and cops. A majority of the military are REMFs, cooks, truck drivers, paper pushers of one sort or another, technicians, etc. The personnel in these positions are job holders, many of whom live off base, and simply go to work like everyone else. They operate in a military environment but don't have a direct connection with artillery barrages and parachute jumps. This is very much in contrast to the 19th century British military, for instance, where practically everyone was a potential participant in hand-to-hand combat.

“In the Mobile Infantry, everybody drops and everybody fights”

That doesn't match my real life experience. Both my cousin and step-brother are REMFs, helicopter and Comm maintenance are their occupational specialties. However, both routinely have fire arms practice and both own personal guns. Being a REMF in the US military doesn't mean you are unfamiliar with personal fire arms.

The pre-9/11 Navy and Air Force operated that way, but both re-introduced regular personal weapons training after 9/11.

Have your cousin and step-brother been issued rifles that are in their possession or are they simply required to qualify at the range periodically?

No one in the undeployed US Army has an issued rifle in their possession except when needed. You draw it out of the arms room for your training, then return it when you don't. By Army regulation only general officers are entitled to keep a weapon out of the armsroom and personally stored when not actively training.

Everyone in the deployed US Army has an issued rifle in their possession at all times.

As I wrote in 2004:

What blue-region white liberals actually want is for the government to disarm the dangerous urban minorities that threaten their children’s safety. Red-region white conservatives, insulated by distance from the Crips and the Bloods, don’t care that white liberals’ kids are in peril. Besides, in sparsely populated Republican areas, where police response times are slow and the chances of drilling an innocent bystander are slim, guns make more sense for self-defense than in the cities and suburbs.

White liberals, angered by white conservatives’ lack of racial solidarity with them, yet bereft of any vocabulary for expressing such a verboten concept, pretend that they need gun control to protect them from gun-crazy rural rednecks, such as the ones Michael Moore demonized in “Bowling for Columbine,” thus further enraging red-region Republicans.

Shaun King, our favorite white Black Lives Matter leader, tweeted after the San Bernardino shooting that he thought white guys like guns to compensate for small penises. Later, some of his old tweets were uncovered that talked about how much he enjoys shooting guns. Oops.

Your theory also helps explain why gun control is a no brainer in Europe. Gun control does a very good job keeping guns out of the hands of the potentially rebellious or criminal classes (the urban poor and minorities) while it is fairly easy for an upper class European to acquire a gun if they want one, at least where I live. There aren't many sparsely populated areas so there is not much of a rural constituency, and in any case it is not difficult for a law abiding European farmer or hunter to get a gun, they just have more paperwork to deal with than an American. The beloved American saying "if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns" ignores the fact that most criminals are stupid and lazy. Most European street criminals and housebreakers don't have guns because acquiring an illegal gun in Europe requires some thought and planning.

I think your theory was basically correct back in the 1970s and 80s. However, based on my wife and her facebook friends, I think white liberals have lost the thread over the decades and really do now believe that white rural rednecks are the problem. Urban minorities, as we all know, are too busy being shot by police officers to pose a threat to righteous white liberals.

"fairly easy for an upper class European to acquire a gun"

Gun licenses, required training, and hunting land leases are expensive in Germany. Hunting culture is much more aristocratic than in the United States, as you might imagine.

You write thoughtful posts by the way.

Right. Europe is crowded, so hunting and fishing (outside of industrial canals) are upscale sports. In Scotland, fishing might be more upscale than even golf (Scotland has lots of natural golf links that aren't good for much else). So guns and fishing gear are seen as accoutrements of the upper classes.

In the U.S., guns are symbols of egalitarian liberty, of America having large open spaces.

We constantly are told that a huge percentage of gun-related incidents are people accidentally shooting innocent bystanders. Surely somewhere there must be a map of these'd be interesting to overlay it with a map of black population density. Also, how many "innocent bystanders" are actually gang members who didn't want to tell the paramedics they were actively involved in a gang shooting?

White liberals: we need to relax our drug laws because they put so many black people in jail.

White liberals: we need more gun control and this will magically have no impact on the number of black people in jail.

Two paragraphs, Steve, and still not a single argument against the idea of controls on “murderous”, hyper-powerful guns? What conceivable purpose does a Uzi serve in a household?

In most cases, probably a similar purpose to owning skis or horses: it's thrilling, exciting, and fun.

I think James's point is that Steve's argument does not address the preferences rural people have for guns that don't serve a self-defense role. Why is the gun culture in rural areas not limited to weapons that have only practical self-defense purposes?

Probably a couple things going on:

One is the law of large numbers. While there are urban gun lovers, there aren't as many of them by percentage and thus those with more extreme tastes for Bigger Badder guns are also fewer. I'd guess you're more likely to become interested in purchasing an automatic machine gun once one of your gun buddies gets one.

Another is exactly what you said: in the city, the need for a gun for self-defense is probably much more obvious. Every day you go through rough neighborhoods, past shady characters on street corners, and are confined inside buses and trains with unpredictable strangers. The need to quickly whip out a highly maneuverable pistol is the most practical scenario. Whereas, out in the country or even the suburbs, the more likely gun-use scenario is on the (likely armed) trespasser at the edge of your property who's fidgeting with the lock on your barn or something. Even if neither scenario is likely or totally realistic, these images are influential in informing our perceived needs for various types of weapons.

The American South was more "martial" than the North in 1860. It made them more likely to pick the fight, but they got thumped anyway by those cowardly Yankees and their industry.
In today's world I'll take the side that can build advanced aircraft carriers and cruise missiles over the side that has lots of guns in the house.

Kind of like how the US has been winning in Afghanistan and Iraq? The South was fighting its co-ethnics and it fought by rules. This is the kind of industrial age battle that history buffs like, with organized armies, clear lines of demarcation, maneuvers, toys etc, the kind we haven't seen in the West since WW2 or America since Korea - a straight up contest of wills within a cultural framework suited to the Western Way of War. When the South lost, there was no guerrilla warfare, insurgency, terror tactics against carpetbaggers etc etc. The War Nerd also pointed out how, with some exceptions, the Civil War was a very restrained affair, with Gettysburg taking place with a single civilian casualty, a woman accidentally shot while laying laundry out to dry near the battlefield. I can't imagine how anyone would be performing household chores near a battlefield, but she seemed pretty confident she wouldn't be a target.

In today's world, the North would win every battle, but lose the war to the South.

"but they got thumped anyway by those cowardly Yankees and their industry."

The North had 7 times the population and industry than the South. And the war was a close thing.

"I’ll take the side that can build advanced aircraft carriers and cruise missiles over the side"

The technical ability to build them doesn't mean that you actually do build them.

Advanced aircraft carriers are an anachronism, an expensive to build, maintain and defend relic of a long gone era. But they're physically impressive so they must make sense somehow.

France and England both spend about 2.2% of GDP on their military versus 3% for the U.S. That's not a trivial difference but it does completely undermine the argument above. It's not as if the U.K. where gun ownership is mostly prohibited falls into Tyler's category 2 of a radical, anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left. They seem like a pretty clear case of Category #1, instead.

And to the extent France and the U.K. play a smaller role on the world stage that obviously has more to do with their comparatively small populations than whether or not their citizenry is armed? As small countries, they simply can't project power to the same degree that the U.S. can. Moreover, because the U.S. has shouldered the burden for so long, those countries don't have to.

It has really very little to do with home ownership of guns. If the U.S. disappeared from the planet tomorrow you'd see countries like the U.K. and France considerably increase their defense spending and start trying to project their will more. What you wouldn't see is them arming their citizenry with rifles.

Previously homogeneous countries know enough not to start handing out guns to the population, for fear of also arming troublesome and bellicose minorities. The guy who killed the UK soldier in the street in broad daylight and decapitated him had to use a meat cleaver to do the job. Imagine if he had a gun.

Imagine if someone nearby and sympathetic to the solider had a gun.
It might well be that allowing both the majority and the minorities to own weapons would go a long way towards keeping things quiet.

Two paragraphs, Steve, and still not a single argument against the idea of controls on "murderous", hyper-powerful guns? What conceivable purpose does a Uzi serve in a household?

Oh, that was for Steve Sailer.

+1 Brian.

Also, note the Pistols Act of 1903. as a historically important British Act.

Most of gun owners say they don't trust their neighbors thus they need to be armed for protection. They don't care about the US role as global policeman. However, it's a valid question. If the gun culture did not exist.........would a compulsory military draft be necessary to launch the next Iraq / Afghanistan style war?

Too simple by half, I think. At a personal level, I have the example of my father, West Point '46 and a career in cold war diplomacy and military affairs that spanned nearly fifty years, who has always detested private gun ownership. At a global level, there are plenty of counterexamples: the Swiss have a fairly martial culture but no interest in being the world's police; the Dutch and South Koreans are willing to participate in world policing without having a martial culture. And we assumed our international role as a country at a time that guns were not nearly so prevalent. So nice try, but as usual things are just way more complicated. We could participate in world affairs -- and probably more sensibly -- if the kind of conservatism that contributes to gun nuttery were not so prevalent.

If you want to talk about our martial tradition and think Clausewitz is too intellectual, then Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers should suffice. The basic thesis is that a society that isn't gonna learn war no more is doomed. Only those willing to fight and die for the nation as a whole have the testicles to lead it properly.

America is a free nation and an early adopter of mass production. We have lots of guns because we can. By that same argument, we are also a culture of alcohol, cars, houses, airplanes, and motion pictures. We probably own about half the worlds stock of those too.

We are also a nation founded upon grievances. Nearly every clause of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is the result of actual grievances at the time of their writing. These were not abstract philosophical arguments or irrational fears, but real, contemporaneous events.

One could also say that the political cultures in other nations are situational. Think of the historical underpinnings for socialism and communism, for example.

America's geography also played a key role. We were isolated from the great powers by two massive oceans, bordered to the south by a relatively narrow passage, and bordered to the north by ice. Our frontier was sparsely populated, and what we didn't develop with the use of our military, our citizens seized by the virtue of superior and mobile firepower.

I didn't finish my thought. The second amendment was the direct result of Britain's attempt to seize weapons from us. The culture embodied in the 2A was situational, not philosophical. To the extent the right to bear arms preceded the 2A, recall that we had frontier wars with Indians and the French and Spanish before our revolution.

Probably the greatest resource of America was trees. Europe had been largely deforested by the 18th century. Castles take an enormous quantity of wood. Wood was the primary fuel until it ran out in Europe, then was replaced by coal, blubber, natural gas and oil.

We are a culture of wood.

"America is a free nation"

Maybe in comparative terms.

"We are also a nation founded upon grievances."

Everybody has grievances all the time.

Yes, in relative terms, and that is all that is necessary to have proliferation of instruments hazardous to the health of government officials.

Everyone has grievances, but seldom do particular grievances (as opposed to general principles) become the founding rules of government. Often the new regime keeps the old rules and merely changes the faces of the oppressors. For example, the Constitution specifically bars the government from involuntary quartering soldiers in private homes. This is a particular grievance, not a general principle. Election Day and Congressional sessions were adopted precisely because the British had made voting and convening legislatures difficult.

Look at each clause in our founding documents. They come directly from recent experience and were popularly accepted. This became increasingly more common for democracies thereafter. The Magna Carta was also particular grievances but for a very narrow group of people.

Since when does owning a firearm become synonymous with freedom? The various government agencies, including the US Forest Service, BLM, Dept. of Education, etc., all have armed, secret police whose task is the coercion of the population. Even a group of gun owners would stand little chance in a confrontation with government authority, which decides what is freedom and what is not.

The founding documents, or Constitution, if you will, were so popularly accepted that states like Rhode Island had to be forced to sign up and genuine patriots like Patrick Henry refused to go along with it.

The fact of the matter is that the rebellious Americans, being British citizens, were traitors. They used violence to achieve their goals rather than diplomacy. You'll note that the Canadians, generally regarded as a civilized and prosperous folk, were never compelled to take up arms against the UK, nor were the Australians.

Chuck, you conveniently forget that the American rebels only took up arms against the British after most every attempt at peaceful, diplomatic redress of grievances by the British crown either went unanswered or were answered in non-peaceful ways by the British.

Remind me again, Chuck, who's protected Britain since the end of World War 2? Oh yeah, it was those treasonous Americans who rebelled back in the late 18th century.

"If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case. But I am skeptical. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse. " This statement does not make any sense at all...

Would America's world role change because of decrease in exposure to guns, or because the populace that achieves gun control in America has less interest in martial expeditions?

I see where you are going with your argument, but presuming the eradication of guns is quite a leap from which to make your inferences about changing culture.

Foreign Policy is clearly imposed from top to bottom, and not the other way around ;) ... There is no "democracy" in foreign policy, only geo-strategic interests. The fact that Tyler maybe doesnt understand this is very naive of him....

And this is a skill that a person could learn competently in about an hour, and expertly in a matter of a day or two. Rifle operation and basic maintenance is hardly rocket science and not indicative of a prevailing culture. I learned to shoot in the Cub Scouts too. Shooting is more or less required learning in any frontier or rural area. The writer above is correct that mere shooting isn't enough. Martial culture requires organization and training as a team. An eighteen month conscription is going to teach some of that, but it is hardly even a full training cycle for the US Army. 18 months is a minimum foundation of combat skill. And not every conscript learns infantry tactics and drills. There are probably three support personnel for every combat arms soldier. Learning to operate a tank hardly prepares someone to stage a coup or revolution because obtaining a tank is rather difficult.

Steven Pinker had some comments about "honour cultures" in The Blank Slate that I found quite persuasive. The USA, especially in the South and West, has a strong "honour culture" built on the idea that the government is ineffective in enforcing personal property rights. Contrast to Canada, which had no Wild West (the police arrived at the same time as the settlers) and grew into more of a law-and-order society. Gun ownership rates in Canada are far lower than in the USA.

Rural Canadians have lots of guns.

Yeah, all 27 of them.

There are about 11 million people living in the Canadian countryside.

Lighten up Francis. Or should I say Francois.

True, but they seem to be rarely used to actually shoot people.

It appears that while the gun ownership rate in Canada is about one-third of that in the USA, the firearms-associated death rate is about one-tenth.

Even the in the US you can see that culture probably has more to do with gun violence than gun proliferation. That is the element gun control proponents like to ignore. New Hampshire and Vermont have very liberal gun ownership laws, and very low murder rates relative to southern states.

Our role as world policeman since WWII probably has more to do with the US comprising 40% of the worlds GDP at the time. As we squander our economic advantage and drop below 20%, China and India will rise to that role. Many Americans are in for a rude awakening.

I think the Middle East is in for a ruder awakening if that is true. They won't be gentle in war like America

As we squander our economic advantage and drop below 20%, -

Strange as it may seem to you, other countries actually apply technology, learn techniques, and manage more refined divisions of labor. No 'squandering' on our part (or on Switzerland's part) necessary. (Just the war reconstruction would have liquidated a great deal of our advantage). While we're at it, the share of the world's goods and services produced here hasn't changed much in a generation).

I don't subscribe to this "culture" view that Americans' views on guns have to align with their views on foreign military adventurism.

Sure, there's a correlation, stereotyped by Southern rednecks vs. effete NY-DC corridor liberals. But most Americans don't fall into those two camps. Maybe the dying Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, but less so Millenials and coming generations.

I myself am pro-gun, anti-foreign intervention, pro-market, pro-gay, pro-drug legalization. Most of those positions show increasing public support over the past years and decades.

You're basically a textbook libertarian. You are #3 in Tyler's post above. Tyler thinks there's a connection between private and national martial attitudes, you don't. Who's right?

America's large rural areas play a role in its gun culture. Consider the life of a rancher or farmer. 911 response time is often 30 minutes, sometimes longer. The roads are pitch black at night, due to sparse houses. You have legitimate animal control needs to begin with. Then, like an elderly couple I know, a group of youths from the nearest city bust into your house and hold you up. The couple was unarmed, and just had to give everything and pray they didn't want to kill them for witnessing. No one else knew about it until the next day. If your that person's neighbor, the prospect of owning a gun is very tempting. If you already own one, threats of being disarmed sound like an actual threat, not as abstract constitutional battle.

I am a pretty libertarian person who wishes fewer people had guns but I am unwilling to support gun control because I think you would need to crack too many heads to reduce guns ownership through Government and it would not be so effective. Also their is the libertarian agreement: I will allow you you the freedom you are interesting in if you allow me the freedom that I am interested in. The way to reduce gun ownership is through social pressure.

Tyler, I think you underestimate the "modern" left's support for cutting military spending and overestimate their support for an interventionist foreign policy. To take the results of this Pew report:, 39% of Democrats support cutting back military spending vs. 47% kept the same. That's a sizeable minority of the party that supports defense cuts.

I don't think there's enough interaction between the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks to create common gun norms between these two groups. Maybe at the margins you can affect change.

This post was in response to Floccina's. Sorry

Apparently Mr. Harding has been erased from the thread.

He's banned from this site.

Another (fifth?) minor participant are groups like the Small Arms Survey. They are less interested in the US problems and more interested in reducing worldwide deaths by firearms. They provide much less biased statistics than the primary contenders.

In the Americas, the US is 3rd or 4th lowest firearms death rate, depending on how you parse categories. It is lower by a factor of 10 to 100 in murders per million than many other countries in the Americas. Africa has similarly high firearms death rates. In Africa the death rate from swords (e.g., pangas and machetes) is even higher than from firearms, but firearms are an important aspect of many murders. Moving through the Middle East and Central Asia the murder rates drop rapidly. Russia and Eastern Europe have rates similar to the US. East Asia and Western Europe have much lower firearms murder rates.

The number one facter is neither gun ownership nor gun controls. It's the extent of activity by organized crime and private armies. These blur together at various scales. You have the Lord's Army in central Africa, where the primary motivation seems to be a psychotic religious need for mass killing by their leader. Their organized crime activities exist just to provide funds for more killing. You have the narco's in the Americas, where the primary motivation for the mass killing is the desire to preserve or increase revenue from organized crime. They also range in size from local crime gangs to multi-national crime gangs.

You even see this effect to a smaller extent in the US. More than half, perhaps more than 75%, of firearms killing in the US is directly related to criminal gang activity, often drug gangs.

This leads to a limited participation in debates over things like gun ownership and gun control. The big win in reducing killings are steps that eliminate the organized crime and private armies. For example, the experiments in some states (Colorado, Portugal, Netherlands, etc.) with revising drug laws to reduce funding for organized crime may lead to much greater reduction in killings. Prohibition 1 (alcohol) showed the huge impact of drug laws on organized crime size and funding. Prohibition 2 (selected other drugs) is similarly a major factor. I think often of the attitude of some of the Dutch in this regard. They do hate waste and are a frugal bunch. They point out that in the Netherlands the drug addiction rate is one tenth that in the US, and that the costs of policing and providing for drug addicts is only a few percent of what the US spends. The extravagent waste of US spending is viewed with scorn. They tinker with their policies every few years, but using the approach "maybe this will reduce the addiction rate or reduce the costs. Lets try it for a while and see whether it was a good change or a bad change." They also have lower levels of organized crime and firearms killing.

This is a truly bizarre argument for the following reasons:

(1) You can't? Well, you can. Britain was able to. Britain the world's policeman, and even a self-acknowledged colonialist for decades (centuries, really!) with gun controls firmly in place. ("The great unwashed" had to be kept firmly in their places at home and unleashed with lots of guns abroad).

(2) America's international strength depends on sophisticated war machinery, not the two-bit tommy guns owned by rural and Heartland America.

(3) Australia was able to pull off gun control without anyone thinking any less of Australia's military capability. And this has been in the very recent past.

The first general gun restrictions in the UK that mattered was the 1920 Firearms Act, which was the first to remove gun rights from the individual and place control in the hands of the Home Secretary and police(*). Britain's place as the world policeman and as a colonialist power was to disappear over the next couple of decades.

US military strength does depend on money and tech, but having a body of young men already accustomed to firearms does help. (Let alone what would happen in the very unlikely case of an attempted invasion.)

Australia's gun control was not only less successful than claimed in reducing violent deaths, their firearm ownership rate has climbed back up since the 1996 gun control law. So it remains to be seen about that.

(*) The 1903 Pistol act just wasn't very effective.

It may just be me, but I thought the linkage of gun ownership and support for international interventionism in the original post was very speculative. Culture is no doubt the key issue and to my mind why the Australia / US analogy is flawed, but it isn't clear to me why the world's largest economy that relies on free trade wouldn't become default policeman out of self interest, regardless of domestic arms bearing culture, as the Romans, British, etc had done before.

To link domestic gun restrictions in the UK to its decline in global relevance seems fairly spurious - there are far more obvious economic and geo-political factors at play.

Regarding the Australian experience I'm not sure what statistics you are referring to - many rural land owners require guns for feral animal control, and recreational shooting remains an accepted practice. You are right in suggesting many guns remain. But the gun reform laws did change the culture of fireams usage, and gun related deaths have fallen dramatically:

You can argue that people kill in some other way, etc. but it is hard to argue the gun laws didn't change something about the way in which guns are perceived and used in the country.

I agree with your point on culture. Comparisons between countries are fraught with these issues.

"To link domestic gun restrictions in the UK to its decline in global relevance seems fairly spurious – there are far more obvious economic and geo-political factors at play."

There are indeed. I was demonstrating that James Bonilla's point was completely wrong and that the relationship, if there was one, would point the other way.

On Australia, note that the fall in homicide rates post-96 resembles the fall in homicide rates in the US at the same time -- despite the fact that the US had no such gun ban, and US citizens bought a vastly increased number of firearms during the same period. Although, again to your point about culture, from a lower starting point to a lower ending point. For that matter, the Australian rates were already dropping long before the '96 gun law.

I think we pretty much agree. The point I'm trying to draw out is that qualitatively (ie in my experience) Australia has had an attitudinal shift away from gun ownership for general protection over time. The law when brought in was not universally supported, there was passionate debate against it at the time, and Australia does have national stories about gun toting outlaw heroes (refer Ned Kelly on wikipedia if you are not familiar). This is speculative on my account, but I think if you asked the question do you support the right to bear arms for personal protection? over time Australia's response would drift lower right to a much greater degree than the US, and I think a series of lone wolf pyscho attacks was catalytic to this shift.

I think the answer to why the divergence between the two countries is almost certainly cultural (and that extrapolating from Australia to the US is overly simplistic), hence my interest in this thread, but I'm not persuaded really by the argument that global hegemony is the key, as I think acting rationally as a nation in self interest explains global interventionism more simply. I don't think innate pacifism in the Australian psyche is true either (note I don't find this description offensive, just inaccurate based on history).

And yet over the intervening period, Americans have purchased over 220,000,000 firearms, on top of the hundreds of thousands owned prior to 1998 - and including some 8,000,000 Ar-15 -type rifles and our firearm homicide rate has DECLINED 20% that interval and much further since the 1980s.

The numbers are readily available via the FBI and the CDC annual stats, for anyone with the intellectual honesty to go look them up for themselves.
Here's the National Instant Check System (NICS, the 'universal background check so oft bandied about) data -

120,000,000 firearms lawfully sold into private hands just during the Obama Administration alone. Driven in no small part by their incessant 'common sense gun control' rhetoric and waving of the bloody shirt. And yet the annual firearm homicide rates have continued their decades-long decline. Note I specify 'firearms homicide'. The specious inflated numbers bandied about by the disarmament front groups add in accidents, suicides, gangs shooting gangs, police shooting crooks, everything they can to inflate the number as high as possible.

Those numbers too can be readily determined by anyone willing to look. In fact the tally of shootings using the Demon AR-15 - and in fact, long guns period - is somewhere under 400. In a nation of 330 Million with something arguably approaching 3/4 of a Billion firearms.
A short recounting of firearms homicides vs the boom in firearms purchases, just to give evidence of the actual trends

Year - Murders with all types of guns - NICS checks
2005 - 10158 - 9M
2006 - 10225 - 10M
2007 - 10129 - 11M
2008 - 9528 - 13M
2009 - 9199 - 14M
2010 - 8874 - 14M
2011 - 8653 - 16M
2012 - 8897 - 20M
2013 - 8454 - 21M
2014 - 8124 - 21M

As anyone can plainly see, the situation is not much as the anti-gun menagerie claims, in their strident calls for disarmament.

I also call attention to America's true place in the world when it comes to homicide rates. By the UN per capita homicide rate data, the USA would place 121st on the list of 216 nations, with 3.6 per capita. Scarcely more than India Most european / anglo nations are in the 1.0-1.5 range. PER CAPITA. So the peaceful disarmed Aussies still kill one in 100,000, while the bloodthirsty armed to the teeth Americans kill <4 per 100,000.
The difference is a statistical pittance. Insignificant to all but the dead.

As to the muddled allusion to there being some connection between being highly armed and hegemony, that's merely a matter of correlation, not causation. Rather it is a reflection of cultural differences in mindset. There were several learned treatises in the immediate post-WWII (if the author of this dreck wants to throw around 'On War') that plainly explained why the American fighting man ultimately dominated on the battlefield. It was his individualism, his initiative, his willingness to act without orders, in absence or orders or even contrary to orders, where other highly trained (Wermacht) or obedient (Japanese) failed utterly when their chains of command were broken. They faltered without authoritarian control, where the American excelled in the same circumstance. We train(ed) for it. We were born to it. And despite decades of attempts via chemical and indoctrination methods, we STILL excel at it. To wit our off-duty military members on the train in France/Belgium.

Americans still for the most part still move to the sounds of the guns. For the majority of the country our fears are tempered and maybe in some part this is due in some way to firearms ownership. They are woven together. A man with a gun is a citizen. A man denied one is a subject. It is a very strong difference in mindset.

But that is being very determinedly attacked via our media and educational systems. it is said that now, despite over a dozen years of warfare, only 1% of our nation has any direct familial connection to our military. There is a wide chasm being deliberately created in our nation between that martial spirit and the common folk. It grows every day. That schism has grown so much that Pentagon officials involved with manpower and training are decrying the quality of the pool they recruit from. So I guess the political left's 'long march thru the institutions' is almost complete / at a cusp. We Citizens with those several hundred million firearms will not surrender this nation without a fight.

I suggest that Tyler visits me in Ayrshire in Scotland if he wants to see how a "martial culture" can exist within gun control. There's no lack of worshipping the army here, and young men in many deprived local villages have strong links to the army and supply fairly huge numbers of soldiers to the British army, with strong links between regiments and communities.

His claim that a martial culture depends on gun control is extremely dubious and lacks any actual facts to back it up.

In addition consider that Britain has been involved in more armed conflicts since WWII than the USA has - in fact more than any other country in the world. What's what about a gun control leading to a pacifist outlook?

This is one of the most insightful TC posts in a long while.

I think there are 2 huge weaknesses in TC's post that are fatal flaws. The first is that he is theorizing about people wanting more or less gun control in the USA as if the gun control would directly limit the amount of guns. The proposed gun control policies seem to me to be designed to make acquiring guns more difficult for certain groups that even the most anti-gun control agrees are high risk. It's hard to see the cogency of the anti-gun, pro-intervention crowd in the face of the seemingly irrational positions on even modest amounts of gun control. Sure, the "I'm crazy enough to do it!" pose has worked well for many conservative issues in recent years, but it is hardly a point in favor when we are evaluating the logical coherence of ideas for the different groups.

I also think that TC is conflating support for military interventionism with blanket support for the military. Is it the case that the South is more in favor of interventionism, or is it the case that the South is more willing to turn a blind eye to instances of military abuse overseas or the ways in which US intervention can sometimes be unproductive and contribute to, for example, the rise of ISIS. There are some other problems with whether the South getting its way is a good thing (I bet we can all think of some historical examples!), but I'm trying to avoid value judgments myself.

All too many of the other great tragedies of history — Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few — were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.

The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Judge Kozinski

This is fine. A potential zombie apocalypse or the tyranny you described is actually one of the best arguments against "going Australia". But how do the modest proposals that are actually on the table for American policy prevent this defense against the Third Reich? If the no-fly ban is a problem, happy to simply cede that point.

I would say it is because those in the gun culture don't believe that the modest proposals represent an end goal, only as wedges to drive to European levels of disarmament.

Tyler's typology is incomplete. There are right wing conservatives who do not support an active foreign policy, but still want an armed population as a bulwark against federal 'threats' and a strong military to maintain the US position as the number one superpower. This cognitive dissonance is matched by their conflicting positions of being anti-science but pro-technology.

The argument sounds rather existentialist. Pro-intervention = domestic gun culture.

"Australian pacifism" isn't a thing. Certainly substantially less militarism than USA, but probably more militaristic than the average Western democracy.

Top gun ownership countries includes Switzerland, Sweden and Iceland. All low militarism.

Australia has consistently backed the USA in intervention, including the disastrous wars, compared to Switzerland and Sweden who condemned the Iraq War for example.

Russia is no where to be seen in per capita gun ownership (66) but extremely militaristic.

This would a great post if it weren't for the obfuscation of issue. Gun control is human control and I can't see any Libertarian interested in human control. However, this has to do with militarism.

The Second Amendment is associated with individual freedom of Americans from a government that no longer follows the Constitution and the Will of the People. It is the stick to go with the carrot. Our Constitution states that certain things are off limits to the government and government powers are limited to that given by the People. If a government becomes illegal - i.e. no longer follows the Constitution - then the People have the ability to form a new government and remove the illegal one by force. This is where the idea of a Militia comes from.

A Militia is an army of the people not an army of the Government. It is most likely not a standing army but one formed to meet a specific need. As George Washington described it we may one day have to form a Militia and overthrow an illegal government. Indeed this has been done in the United States and Sparta is one example.

Do guns make one more militaristic? Although there may be a relationship I would contend that this is not necessarily the case and we would have to examine additional factors. Certainly Switzerland and Israel and Finland have firearms in virtually every home and they are not more militaristic.

The South has a long history of military support. In addition, there was more property available in the south in which to build large military bases so a larger number of people are exposed to the military. The military likes building bases in warmer climates with its associated lower operating costs. Therefore, One could conclude that living below the Mason-Dixon line causes one to be militaristic or you could find a relationship but not a cause and effect.

In short, I do not see a cause-effect relationship of martial support and firearm ownership. I do see a Military-Industrial complex that survives on an active military. A Military is active if we want to further our interests outside of our borders and so it is incumbent to embrace the world's policeman ideology.

Libertarians generally have no foreign policy so as a rule reject the idea of keeping the enemies out of the border and fighting them away from the home front. As a result the World's Policeman ideology is not consistent with Libertarian thought.

However, none of this has anything to do with gun control. Since gun control has nothing to do with militarism, unless you have further peer-reviewed studies to support the assessment, this post is an irrelevant discussion.

I think TC underestimates the number of gun owners in #3 and overestimates the number of gun owners in #4.

If you get on the biggest gun blog (, the vast majority of commenters are anti-intervention and pro-liberty. Gun nuts are not typically interventionist; most just want to be left alone.

He's probably closer to the mark when talking about folks' voting patterns. Many in #4 are sympathetic to guns without actually owning them. Many in #4 also get dragged in by the media being so pro-interventionist.

Republican voters seem to be grasping for some new type of candidate. They are rejecting the establishment candidates (all #4), and embracing alternatives. Some alternatives are anti-immigration/pro-intervention (Trump), some pro-immigration/anti-intervention (Paul), some anti-immigration/anti-intervention (no one really), most are squishy on both depending on what pressures they get from their donors and the media (everyone else).

Maybe not this election, but I predict that a anti-immigration/anti-intervention consensus will develop on the Republican side, and that consensus will likely also be pro-gun. Thus movement from #4 to #3.

Australia has 11th highest per capita military spend in the world (5th highest Western country), and has backed the USA into war more than any other country.

My tentative thoughts on Australia are that disarmament is very recent and has yet to transform its culture, but I suspect it may well do so and lead to a less interventionist foreign policy over the longer run.

Britain is somewhat further along this path.

Either we live in a strange world or I'm a strange person, because, according to the typology of this post, I am basically Radical Left. And, yet, just six months ago, I realized that I'm a Radical Conservative based upon the policies advocated by Tim Harford here: I have a slight disagreement withTim Harford on taxes, just as I have a slight disagreement with the Radical Left position on guns. This post was very good, btw.

3 is not contradictory at all.

I own a firearm because I do not trust the US government to act in my best interest domestically.

I am for a limited foreign policy because I do not trust the US government to act in my best interest internationally.

A strong gun culture isn't incompatible with statist gun control policies. Prussian militarism is the still the strongest example of a martial culture, but a good soldier is rather different from your typical American gun enthusiasts. I think you're onto something here but the anti-statist element of American gun culture is absolutely crucial -- and it's logically inconsistent with the strong support of the military among the same group.


A substantially more sophisticated argument for the relationship between guns and world defense is available in the brilliant book:

Death From A Distance and the Birth Of A Humane Universe
By Paul Bingham and Joanne Souza

The authors map out how the elite can and will exploit the masses unless the masses can defend themselves. They take this model through history, starting with foragers with rocks right up through nuclear weapons.

On this issue, they basically suggest that America exists as it does because we can protect ourselves from the state via weapons. America then protects all the rest of the world via its military, and the rest if the world collectively protects itself against America.

Note the authors clearly are not conservative or libertarians. They just take the concept of balance of power and run with it to its conclusions. They provide extensive empirical data to support their narrative.

I am not sure I agree with everything, but their argument is very strong.

One of the contradictions of thelibertarian position on guns is that it runs up against their distaste for cops. Cops are power hungry assholes who randomly shoot people for looking askance at them, but private gun owners are invariably responsible adults who only use their guns for responsible purposes. Strangely this means the person with actual training is assumed to be MORE dangerous with a gun than a private citizen.

Cops have 24/7 access to fast cars and firearms. Not only should they be required to go through extensive psychological testing before employment, they should be forbidden to have alcohol or drugs in their system at any time. Professional bicycle racers, who seldom shoot anyone, are subject to random drug testing but cops are not. Jockeys, and the horses, are tested for alcohol and drugs at the track, cops aren't. Track and field athletes have to pass drug tests. Gun-toting cops do not. It would inspire a lot more confidence in the population if it could be assumed that law enforcement officers weren't sociopaths with a BAL of .10 and a white residue in their nasal passages.

"Cops are power hungry assholes who randomly shoot people for looking askance at them, but private gun owners are invariably responsible adults who only use their guns for responsible purposes." Sarcasm aside, this is quite possibly a fair summary of the facts as they are. It is certainly not obviously false. See, e.g.,

"Strangely this means the person with actual training is assumed to be MORE dangerous with a gun than a private citizen." You assume that persons with actual training and private citizens are disjoint sets. This is not an accurate assumption. See, e.g., or google "firearms training" for further examples.

This typology lines up simikarky to Walter Russell Mead's classification different strands of American foreign policy preferences (Special Providence). The pro gun-interventionist culturally conservative platform is basically his Jacksonian classification, the liberals of group one Wilsonian, etc.

Both TC and Mead point to the need to understand culture.

And yet another example of how dialogue, pluralism, nuance, representation, and cooperation are drowned in the iniquitous well that is the two-party system of governance.

Libertarians do not appear inconsistent at all on this issue to me. Having a gun is one way to maintain peace in a non-aggressive way. Ask a cab driver in New York about this to understand more.

"Americans own 42% of the civilian guns in the world."
"America accounts for…about 42% of the defense spending."

America/Americans also own a substantial portion of 'global wealth'.
We need the guns and the military to defend what is ours.

"OK, now look at who is winning this debate in terms of actual policy changes. It is the conservatives, for the most part. No matter how much you may disagree with them, they have the most coherent cultural and intellectual position..."

We also have more guns. Don't forget that.

The fact is most killing is done by governments against their own people or against foreigners. The bad boy is usually government. As for shootings in the US, most occur in certain ethnic neighborhoods in cities controlled by the gun control fanatics. Wherever the welfare state is strongest, there is the most violence. Unfettered socialism is the source of most of the poverty, ignorance and violence in the world. Slavery is also a factor. In Sharia countries, 50% of the population is held in slavery, i.e., females. Slavery makes men arrogant and power crazy.

BTW, what are we going to do about all those NRA guys running around shooting people?

You omitted any mention of the 2nd Amendment or even the U.S. Constitution. The Founders understood that a martial culture is necessary to maintaining a Free State. Not for adventures abroad, but for defending the Liberty of the People in case the Government turns tyrannical. The People are the militia and thus we are martial in nature. If you want to understand the the supposed "gun culture," you'll need to define another group compiled of independent Constitutionalists who believe in the rights of the individual and the powers provided to the People through Providence and the Constitution. This article is a misleading in that it attempts to connect a inalienable right to foreign wars dreamed up by effete politicians and diplomats. The gun culture exists as a basic individual right of self-defense and a collective right of the People to defend against tyranny.

You could argue that Israel is an example that contradicts this argument - the military is a fundamental component of Israeli life, the country's very existence is predicated on having a strong army, all males and females serve a compulsory 2-3 years in the IDF, retired generals are dominant in both politics and industry, and yet gun ownership is relatively low, as are rates of violent crime.

I think you are fundamentally misreading what you term the 'libertarian' position, or a substantial part of it. If I am correct, this position is not inconsistent as you suggest it is. I think a better term for it would be 'classical liberal' rather than 'libertarian', but that could be a quibble.

In the 19th century, the dominant 'martial' culture in the United States, strongest in the South (perhaps) but also well-established in the Northeast and the trans-Appalachian West, was that of the 'citizen-soldier' - that is, a person with military training (and for the upper classes, training to serve as an officer), but whose primary occupation was civilian. It was part and parcel of the pre-Civil War militia culture and regarded the martial virtues as essential to a free republic. Remember, the Founders were educated men whose reference point in many respects (for good or ill) was the Roman Republic and its history. Those who fought in the revolution (and the War of 1812 pretty much) saw themselves as the heirs of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm to lead Rome's armies to victory, and the returned to his farm, just as Washington did.

That was the culture in the US that inspired the 19th century foundation of the senior (non-federal) military colleges, especially Norwich University, the Virginia Military Institute, and the Citadel, all of whose graduates played prominent parts in the Civil War. Those institutions survive and maintain the citizen solider tradition, as do the ROTC units at many civilian colleges - most who earn commissions serve only a few years and return to civilian life, but remain prepared to serve at need.

The nuanced adjustment to your argument would include the case of Switzerland. Lots of guns but highly disciplined and, of course, patently neutral, if not pacific. On the other hand, nobody in their right mind would attempt to invade the country; the costs and casualties of any attempted occupation would be unacceptably high. If the framers of the Second Amendment had any model for the right to bear arms within the framework of a militia, the Swiss armed forces would probably best fit the bill of all modern nations.

Citizens are already banned from possessing almost all of the weapons used by our military and that has not reduced support for the military's use of those weapons. Supporting gun control for individuals to indirectly reduce military adventures overseas is a laughably horrendous bet

This Wendell Berry essay seems related, though it provides a slightly different and broader view:

Tyler, I think this concept is fundamentally flawed. There is nothing inherent about supporting a strong military or interventionism abroad and being armed personally. Romans (citizens of Rome, the city) and cosmopolitan Greeks were incredibly adamant that being armed within a city was barbaric, uncivil, and antithetical toward developed life.

They had absolutely no problem with funding an enormous and powerful military, destroying and enslaving people they conquered and taking wealth to beautify their polis.

This is not just an ancient or a Western notion. Ancient people in the East (Persians etc) constantly used mercenaries and did not actively encourage the militarization of its ethnic citizens but rather invested in growing their wealth among citizens and using taxes to pay barbarians or other combinations to impose their will upon their neighbors.

In modern times you see things like the French Foreign Legion or here in America, only citizens may become commissioned officers but we are all too happy to let non citizens enlist and fight (and die) for our interests if they meet much lower requirements.

I admit if your population is pacifist you'll have a hard time getting support for war. If you find all armaments terrible than you might have a harder time supporting a war unless you can convince the populace the potential enemy is "barbaric", "subhuman" or some other form of ethical gymnastics to think them worthy of lesser care. However, I think the tribalist tendencies of nationalism are pretty well studied and even if we came to a decision nationally than wielding fewer guns (or no guns) within our borders as citizens it wouldn't sabotage our ability to convince them we ought to engage in hostilities elsewhere.

The obvious rejoinder is that America was extremely pro-gun LONG before it took on the role of World Policeman.

As a non-american,non westerner but living in a NATO country i kind of support american love of guns for selfish reasons.For better or worse NATO is really the US and some smaller fish.If the US as a country became a lot less predisposed towards violence then NATO itself would probably dissappear if not de jure at least de facto,its hard to imagine peace loving hippies having the stomach for a long and incredibly bloody war.Maybe a bombing campaign and some special forces but all out attrition warfare somehow i doubt it.As long as americans are somewhat more violent than a typical westerner then most Western countries and even allies a bit to the east can enjoy relative prosperity and peace with low levels of interpersonal violence.If America suddenly became hippie land then odds are other places would take advantage and attack one way or another.Without the US Europe would have to revert to being either a violence prone continent at a societal level or have a powerfull turn towards authoritarianism.For better or worse the enemies of the West will neve be scared of calling them assholes like John Oliver felt the need to do following events in Paris.So yeah americans are violent on average compared to other western countries or western leaning but that is exactly why these countries can afford to be like this in the first place.On the other hand the system as it is is not perfect and major war can break out regardless but you can say in retrospect it sorta worked mostly for around 70 years.Whether it will survive in the longer term that's different.

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