Saturday, July 21, 2012

More Guns, More Equilibria

There is an enormous literature on multiple equilibria in socially interactive dynamic situations on crime, tax-paying, transitional economy outcomes, and many other things. A prominent example of this was Robert Putnam's 1993 book on Democracy in Italy in which he invoked the concept of social capital to explain sharply differing political-economic-social outcomes in northern vs southern Italy.  An example I am a coauthor on that focuses on transition economy outcomes and provides a theoretical model (originally due to Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute), as well as empirical results can be found at my website, , partway down, "Mutltiple Unofficial Economy Equilibria and Income Distribution Dynamics in Systemic Transition," 2003, JPKE, 25, 425-447.

I bring this apparently  esoteric example up due to its relevance to the problem of guns in America and the recent tragedy in Aurora, CO.  This model of multiple equilibria applies to guns.  There are societies with few guns and strict regs on them.  Think Japan.  Most of their gun deaths are socially approved suicides derived from the Samurai code of honor and Seppuku.  But, in general, the rate of gun ownership and gun violence in Japan is extremely low.  Many other nations on this planet resemble Japan in this generally, although varying in details on many important aspects.  These societies are in the "good" equilibrium, where general social disapproval of guns combined with strict laws regulating them has led to few around, while organized crime and selected others can get them, but the rate of gun deaths is low by global standards, and certainly compared to the rate in the US.

OTOH, the US is clearly stuck in the "bad" equilibrium, derived from a long individualistic frontier history of widespread gun ownership, reinforced by the Second Amendment with its two parts, one emphasizing the right to own guns, recently raised above the other part by the US Supreme Court against long established precedents, with the other emphasizing the need for state level militias to be supported by a gun-owning citizenry in a society without a federal national defense (uh huh, compare 1787 national military [basically zero] to current DOD, duh).  The control variable is the number of guns out there per capita, and the long US history favoring guns has meant that the barn door was torn off long ago and guns are everywhere, with no chance to go to the low gun "good" equilibrium anytime in the near future. Local efforts to control guns are hopeless as they pour in from other parts of the country, such as Virginia supplying the gangs of New York, with newly revived relaxations against the pleas of law enforecement officials to the northeast, but, hey, here in Virginia, the NRA really has the legislature in its grip to kill kill kill.

However, this most recent shocking event makes clear that even if the US has no hope of ever getting to that "good" equilibrium, maybe we are going too far into the bad equilibrium zone, and that more and more guns do not lead to less crime at all.  What can we do? 

Well, there is one obvious move.  Reinstate the previously existing ban on assault weapons.  The evidence is clear that when that ban was in place, there were fewer deaths from such weapons.  The main weapon that James Holmes used in his invokation of the Joker was an assault rifle banned under the previous ban on assault weapons, left to expire.  This ban must be reinstated.

Th\is involves the NRA and its despicable leader, Wayne LaPierre.  This man worked up his supporters into a frenzy that Obama would "take away our guns."  Of course Obama, totally cowed by the awesome power of the NRA in this path dependent "bad" equilibrium (even though a majority of voters support stronger gun control) did nothing about this. Given the "failure" of Obama to come through with any obvious anti-gun efforts, LaPierre (always out to keep the suckers sending him the money), concocted a totally ridiculous theory.  The Fast and Furious program in Arizona, an earlier version of which ran in the Bush admin only to be pretty quickly put down by higher ups once they firgured out it was going on and how totally stupid it was, did a a rerun under the Obama admin: put in by the pleas of the ATF gang in Phoenix, only to be shut down by the higher-ups once it became clear what a total loser it was. 

That would have been that, except that this time NRA boss LaPierre declared this one to be a plot in favor of gun control.  Supposedly, Obama and AG Eric Holder were guilty according to this absurd conspiracy theory, leadiing to the NRA robots in Congress arguing that indeed Obama and Holder were really pushing LaPierre's conspiracy theory of doing Fast and Furious to bring about greater gun control.  This is the sort of utterly ludicrous nonsense that a nation can be led into when it is really going whole hog into the "bad" equilibrium on this matter (and we have never previously seen a nation go so completely bonkers on this issue ever in all of world history, really).

Another serious matter is the end of a long-held delusion by the NRA and its many supporters, the idea that more guns will lead to less violent gun-related crime.  I shall not go through this debate in all its details.  However, I shall note that the main studies by John R. Lott, Jr. on this, widely spread by the NRA, have been seriously discredited.  I shall simply suggest you go to the Wikipedia site for "John Lott" to see the details, but I completely concur with the critical assessments found there.  Basically, it gets down to that his results depended on the extremely special case of Florida, and that case is now an embarrassment for the advocates of totally free guns, now that it has become clear that Mr. Zimmerman is mentally disturbed.  Is there in any real difference between Zimmerman and Holmes?  No.

In particular, this tragedly in Aurora makes clear that all the yapping by NRA propagandists that individuals carrying guns can/will stop madmen from killing lots of people (something we heard from these people after Cho shot up VA Tech, only to have the VA legislature fall all over itself genuflecting to the most ridiculuous and osbscene requests from the NRA), does not cut it.  Holmes could not be stopped by all these junior Zimmermans and fantasists training so hard to protect "us" from whomever they thought were threatening us.  No way.  This guy had body armor, and that is how it will be in the future.  This particular fantasy of the NRA and its bootlickers is dead in the aisles of Theater 9 of Aurora, Colorado.  Sorry guys, grow up.

My final point is to any true believer in the super sanctitiy of gun rights.  Sorry, but this is not a universally recognized right.  The only other nation that has similar legal views to the US in the entire world is Honduras, whose gun dealers compete with ours for supplying the drug cartels in Mexico..  If any of you are proud of this, so be it. I am not. The US was arguably the major inspiration for individual human rights in the world, with the French Declaration on this following after ours, and the 1948 UN Declaration clearly modeled on ours as well.  But none of those, and nobody else's (except world-inspiring Honduras!), has followed us on this particular matter, where our ancestors' "need" to keep injuns, slaves, wetbacks, and other potentially troublesome people from our"frontier," in line.  Again, this last jibe on my part is simply a recognition of the power of path dependence and the historical record of the US that makes it so difficult to do anything about this, even such screaminlgly obvious things as banning assault weapons that no civiliian has any obvious or legitiimate use for is at least one obvious move that might improve things.


Gobanian said...

Sorry. Found it. And it definitely is worth reading

Harvey Yoder said...

I strongly recommend your creating a condensed version of this as an op ed piece for the DNR. Long overdue.

Allin Cottrell said...

A friend of mine in Scotland has a nice take on this. If (in the US) you want to buy an assault rifle you first have to register yourself as one who wants to overthrow the government -- or wants to defend himself against Federal black helicopters. That's your right, of course, but in exchange for your purchase of automatic weapons the FBI gets to keep tabs on you.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell said...

There is a solution. It's at:

jas said...

part of our right to bear arms is to be able to defend ourselves from the gov't itself. i consider this as a good thing.

the aurora event is not a political issue. it's not a gun issue. it's sad that people are making it political (inevitable, i know). in my opinion, the biggest political issue is that we have a society that condones having 3 month old babies in a theatre past midnight, in a movie where there is a lot of loud noise and violence. and society past midnight isn't our cream of the crop.

as per the incident, you can't stop crazy. people have been going on crazy, murderous rampages for all of time. there is, and will always be, a certain percentage of the population that is nuts. as population grows, so will that percentage of crazy people.

any crazy person could've created explosive devices to hurt a lot of people. guns aren't necessary for that. a nice, big F-250 truck could take out a lot of people in a crowded area. do we need a waiting list for vehicles? any crazy person who wants to hurt a lot of people will find a way to do it.

crazy will be crazy. you can't stop it, and you can't safeguard from it entirely. according to wikipedia, around 3 times as many people die via automobile accidents each year than guns (homocides).

it's sad. that's all it is. we have to realize that people go nuts sometimes.

neroden@gmail said...

The original meaning of "well-regulated militia" was "well-trained" and "well-organized".

So the Second Amendment does protect the Black Panthers' right to buy weapons, drill, practice, organize, and run patrols.

But it doesn't protect the rights of individuals who aren't involved in an organized militia (note: organized is NOT the same as government-authorized) to buy guns.

In fact, the Founders lived in a country with extensive regulations on private gun and ammunition ownership, and approved of such regulations. Among those regulations were the ones keeping guns away from crazy people! (Who obviously were not fit to be part of an organized militia!)

The Founders based the Second Amendment on the Swiss system, where every adult male has a gun, extensive training in how to use it, and a *sealed* package of bullets. If any of those bullets go missing without authorization you get arrested....

run75441 said...

Sorry Barkley, two of these comments are patently ridiculous.

Neroden and Jas; no state law has ever been struck down due to violating 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms. The NRA legal wizards should have explained this to you so you would not look foolish posting your gibberish in public places.

Jas, so we have guilt by proximity and presence for a baby and the mom? Non sequitor and not germaine to the topic. The same with the F250. Can you buy a truck without registering it with the state, licensing it, and drive it without a driver's license off of private property? No.

If you really want to know how the state and city laws were struck down by SCOTUS, please take a moment and review US vs Cruikshank and also US vs. Miller.

During Reconstruction after the Civil War, a bunch of rowdy good old boys (White League) decided they were going to put down a supposed Black Rebellion in Grant Parish, LA as they were elected to public office. SCOTUS sruck down a federal law making it a crime to violate the civil rights of others (using the Fourteenth Amendment to justify federal intervention in law enforcement [which was generally left to the states) which was precisely what the good old boys (White League) were doing while murdering 100 or so Blacks. Colfax Massacre . . . read the book.

In US vs Miller, two bank robbers carried a saw-off shotgun across state lines, were caught, and claimed protection under the 2nd amendment. SCOTUS disagrred claiming a sawed off shotgun was not a weapon found in US Civilian Militias.

Your right to bear arms was never protected under the 2nd amendment and this go-around was another gerrymandering of Cruikshank to strike down local and state gun laws.

Barkley Rosser said...


Uh, sorry, but the SCOTUS recently struck down a statue of the District of Columbia, which you may wish to whine is not a state, that forbade handguns. In that decision they clearly elevated the individual right to bear arms over the militia interpretation, thereby overthrowing long established precedent, although they did leave in place some room for some limits on gun ownership still.

Get up to speed, buddy, before you spout patently ridiculous gibberish here again.

John Lott said...

Dear Barkley:
I don't expect you to know the research on gun control or what has been done in response to my work on right-to-carry laws. But there are a lot of studies on this question. A brief survey is provided on pp. 1213-14 here ( A longer survey is provided in the third edition of More Guns, Less Crime. If you want to discredit the result, you will have to discredit these other studies.

The militia interpretation was not "long established precedent." The Miller case was a mess, but what it basically said was that individuals were allowed to own guns that were used by the military. Since a sawed off shotgun is not a weapon normally used by the military, the Supreme Court ruled that it could be banned. Is that the precedent that you really want? My guess is that a lot of Second Amendment advocates could live with that reasoning.

As a minor point, the Heller case didn't just strike down the handgun ban. It also struck down DC's gunlock laws. With over 72,000 adults in DC owning long guns that they could now legally load and use for self defense within DC, I would argue that part of the ruling was actually of greater practical importance.

run75441 is much more accurate than you are. I guess that I am always surprised at the anger in what you write. I still don't know what you hope to gain by writing that way.

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