September 12, 2004

To ban or not to ban

That is the question. Well, not really, since it looks like expiration of the assault weapons ban is a foregone conclusion at this point.

The question of how much safer we are under the assault weapons ban is pretty much as empirical a social science question as you could hope for: to find out, one would just have to look at how often assault weapons vs. other guns were used in various crimes prior to the ban. Since I have no idea what these numbers were, I'd like to make the case that it doesn't matter. Even if assault weapons had been used in none of the crimes committed in the US in the past fifteen years (other than, eg, the crime of trying to import assault weapons, stuff made illegal by the ban), the ban was still a good thing.

The argument is a straightforward analogy: Private citizens in this country are banned from owning tanks and nuclear weapons not because that ban prevents many crimes, but simply because those weapons are extraordinarily dangerous. The damage that one person could do with a tank before they could be stopped overwhelms the minuscule odds of anyone actually doing it. The case of a nuclear weapon is even more extreme: the number of people who'd actually want to use a nuclear weapon is extraordinarily small, but the damage they could do overwhelms that probability. Assault weapons fall on the other end of spectrum from nuclear weapons -- someone could 'only' kill a few hundred people with an Uzi before being stopped -- but this could still be considered enough to justify the ban.

1 comment:

MosBen said...

But Dan, the 2nd Ammendment SAYS we have the right to have guns!

Except not...