On guns: Individual rights versus the collective good

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This won’t come as a surprise to most of us:

Researchers ran several regressions analyzing 14 years of data in 11 states that have “right-to-carry” laws, seeing whether there was any movement in crime statistics after the adoption of these laws.

Turns out being able to carry a handgun spikes up crime in states: By the tenth year of these laws, violent crime was up between 13 and 15 percent.

For most liberals, I think, this kind of information is dispositive: As a general rule, more guns means more gun violence. Period. End of story. Right?

Well, nope.

One thing about conservatives: They very much emphasize the “individual” in individual rights. (They can be inconsistent about this, but bear with me.) So though statistics and studies seem pretty telling about the connection between guns and gun violence, it doesn’t quite matter, because:

• Conservatives believe they have God-given right to self-defense.
• Many conservatives believe that regulating guns interferes with that right.

And that’s where we have a clash of values and perspective that’s stymies solutions in this issue: Liberals tend to have their eye on the collective good, while conservatives are more about self-interest.

That makes it sound like I’m painting them as selfish: Charitably, many conservatives believe in an Adam Smith-y kind of “invisible hand” universe where everybody pursuing their self-interest produces the best society.

I’m not sure they’re always wrong. When it comes to gun, though, the disparity between the individual vision and the collective good seems pretty stark.

There are some conservatives who favor individualized solutions to the issue. Take National Review’s David French, in a piece for The Atlantic:

Thus the overwhelming support for background checks, the insistence from gun-rights supporters that the government enforce existing laws and lock up violent offenders, and the openness to solutions—like so-called “gun violence restraining orders” that specifically target troubled individuals for intervention.

Maybe that’s the place to start. Then again, the NRA is known to try to hobble such solutions — background checks are a mess, and the group routinely stymies laws to make gun owners responsible for something as simple as reporting a missing gun to the cops.

But generally, the debate over guns is rooted in the larger difference in worldviews. Individual rights or collective good. What’s your pick? And is there any way to resolve the gap to mutual satisfaction?

Author: joeldermole

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.

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