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May 08, 2007

ANDREW SULLIVAN ASKS: "If gun rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?"

I think the short answer is that gun rights are about security, and we'd rather keep the criminals guessing. In addition, doubt about who owns guns generates what economists call "positive externalities," meaning that if a substantial proportion of homeowners have guns, or if a nontrivial number of people out-and-about are carrying concealed guns, potential burglars or assailants have to allow for the possibility that a victim or someone in the neighborhood might be armed. That produces a deterrent effect that benefits even those who do not possess guns This is why, for example, we see fewer burglaries of occupied homes in the United States than in countries like Britain with strict gun controls -- breaking into an occupied home is dangerous. Meanwhile, on a more personal level, those who are armed would prefer to have the advantage of surprise. I should also note that there's a difference between owning guns (the "keep and bear" business) and carrying guns, which is what the whole CCW permit thing is about. That distinction is explained at some length here.

But I'll turn the question around: If abortion is a civil right, why would anyone object to having a newspaper publish a searchable database of people who've had one?

I'm not ashamed! But some people might worry about prejudice from the "unenlightened and unsophisticated."

UPDATE: Some further thoughts from Eugene Volokh.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thoughts on gun bigotry, including a reference to this amusing Slate piece by Emily Yoffe, which I'd missed. Excerpt:

So anathema are guns among my friends that when one learned I was doing this piece, he opened his wallet, silently pulled out an NRA membership card, then (after I recovered from the sight) asked me not to spread it around lest his son be kicked out of nursery school.

Sheesh. And a bit more background here, from Dave Kopel.

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