Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Gun Dilemma

If I was a burglar and I tried to make a living in the Netherlands, I probably would have a real hard time getting a hold of a gun to convince the burglarized to hand over the loot. It would take a lot of effort, money and time, so I probably would burgle without packing iron and hope for the best.

If I was a burglar and I lived in the United States, it would make sense for me to have a gun. It's easy to get, it's cheap and any self-respecting burglar wouldn't think twice about carrying. If you have to invade someone's property anyway, why not make sure that you have the upper hand? Not to mention the unexpected possibility that the victim might himself be walking heavy.

So you see, it all depends on the context. Do I, the burglar, need a gun to accomplish my mission? Were I a burglar with philosophical inclinations, I would try to find the answer before I ventured on my first prowl.

A good place to start is the 'Prisoners' Dilemma' problem. If you are not familiar with this problem, it goes something like this:

Two suspects are arrested for a robbery. Each is questioned separately by police and told this: Our evidence against the two of you for the robbery is thin, but we can give each of you a year in jail on a lesser weapons charge. If you confess and squeal on your buddy, he'll get five years and we'll let you walk. But if you both squeal, you each get three years.

Applied to guns, the reasoning goes like this:

Guns are bad and the ideal state for society would be if nobody had any guns. Neither the burglar nor the burglarized. But in America, the burglar already has a gun. It's like playing the Prisoner's Dilemma and knowing that the other prisoner has already confessed. So out of self-interest I should also have a gun, I should also confess, or I'll get 5 years, I'll get shot.

In other words, America is at a disadvantage compared to Holland. What's best for society is for no one to have guns, but that's already off the table. Americans have to do what's best for them, which is to have a gun since other people have guns. The only way we can change the conditions of the game is to align self-interest with public interest.

But how do you accomplish that in a country where the Constitution guarantees the right of individuals to bear arms? How does your right to have a gun affect my right to not be shot by your gun? The Second Amendment has created a situation where gun control is almost impossible to achieve.

This is what the Second Amendment says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” So, is it a well-regulated militia or the people themselves that have the right to keep and bear arms?

In many countries (where there is no Second Amendment), the right to bear arms is reserved for the military and the police, and if you want to go through the significant hassle of acquiring a permit, you have to be a member of a hunting club or a shooting range.

Maybe the difference in attitude towards owning a gun is found in a person’s moral values. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says that there are five moral values that form the basis of our political choices. In The moral roots of liberals and conservatives, he makes the point that for a liberal, preventing harm and caring for your fellow man as well as promoting fairness and reciprocity, are much more important than the other three moral values, i.e. loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and purity and sacredness. Liberals might not even view these as moral values

If you want to prevent harm and promote fairness, you are for gun control, but if you place a higher value on respect for authority, maintaining order and purity and the sanctity of tradition, you would be against it. (That last bit is a bit confusing to me).

I don't think I have ever held a handgun, so I am not the right person to enumerate all the reasons why someone would want to own a gun, but moral reasons put aside, a gun is designed to shoot something or someone. Like a car is designed to take you places and a vacuum cleaner is meant to clean the floor.

This might sound na├»ve, but the reason I don't own a gun, is because I don’t hunt and I am not interested in shooting anyone. So, why own a gun? I pay taxes so I expect the police to take care of my safety and the army to stop the bad guys from invading the country.

As John Paul Stevens suggests in his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution”, maybe adding just five words to the Second Amendment would solve our problem:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.” leave comment here