Externalities (was Re: Gun census Tally: Sun, Dec.21, WAS:Re: Gun Owner/Extropian census)

Keith Elis (hagbard@ix.netcom.com)
Sun, 21 Dec 1997 15:56:09 -0500

Mike wrote:

> Political rights, authoritiy, and power are thought to be derived from
> one of two sources: [...] b) from the exercise of force by individuals willing
> to fight and die to gain such rights, authority, or power, either for
> themselves, or for the group of people they represent. Since
> Libertarians around the world tend to also be athiests, especially
> non-American Libertarians, I cannot understand any justification for a
> libertarian atheist to not support the force doctrine, and givne the
> nature of Libertarian philosophy, which holds that all power and rights
> derives from the individual, I cannot understand how any Libertarian
> atheist can not support the right of the individual to keep and bear
> arms. ANything other than this seems extremely hypocritical to me.

The force doctrine doesn't imply that *firearms* are necessary to
preserve freedom. It merely requires that an individual have the right
to keep and bear arms. I agree that this essential point is obvious and
unassailable in light of the Second Amendment. Much of the debate going
on around here concerns whether firearms are a practical means to this

Firearms are easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and the most powerful
type of weapon the average person can get. In this regard, they seem to
be the most practical choice for self-preservation.

However I'm not so sure that the production costs of firearms reflect
the external costs associated with their distribution. Firearms are
practical in large part because they are so inexpensive. But are they
artificially inexpensive? Shouldn't the price of purchasing a firearm
mirror the increased risk to self, and others even if only accidental
harms are involved?

The purpose of a firearm is to throw metal at high speeds, over a
considerable distance, with accuracy. We all know that the intent of
such a stated purpose is to make killing more efficient.

A tool used for killing is useful only insofar as the probability of
causing death increases with its at-will use in a wide variety of
circumstances. Firearms seem practical for self-preservation in large
part because they are useful by this standard. Consider that a nail-gun
has the same general purpose as a firearm (throwing metal at high
speeds) and would suffice to kill something, but its effectiveness for
killing is limited (a nail-gun has a short range, it is heavy, it
requires a pretty powerful compressor, it is inaccurate, etc.) In short,
it is an impractical killing device.

Now, the point: the purchase price of a nail-gun may not reflect the
external costs of accidental harms, but it also does not reflect the
external benefits that result from its use for the purposes it is
designed for and the purposes it accomplishes most efficiently. A
firearm designed for the express purpose of making killing more
efficient has external benefits only insofar as killing something can be
a benefit (rare and isolated situations which constitute a separate

However, this analysis neglects to weigh a possible external benefit
involved in throwing metal at high speeds, over considerable distances,
with accuracy. Namely, it is amusing for some people. Does this benefit
(in the aggregate) outweigh or equal the aggregate costs of accidental
death? I would guess that it probably doesn't.

If this is so, then firearms are not as inexpensive as the market is
telling us, and they may not be the most practical method of ensuring
your own personal autonomy and freedom.

Keith M. Elis
A/K/A Hagbard (to the initiated)