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Sanity Zone 1-19-2013 Positive Rights

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Posted 01-18-2013 at 04:08 PM by xan

In political theory, a positive right is a right that is accorded to you by society. In contrast, a negative right is a right that society can take away from you. Negative rights are freedom of speech, freedom of religious belief, freedom to act in self-preservation. Examples of positive rights are things like education, health care, vacations, police and fire protection. Positive rights are things that society allows you to add to yourself.

Negative rights are things you pay the government to protect, duties of omission being the term of art, and we are generally glad to pay those duties. No one likes to be oppressed. We can agree that a functional and fair judicial system that adjudicates infringements on negative rights is an indisputable feature of a just and healthy society.

Positive rights are things we pay the government to provide. Often, the beneficiary of these positive rights are unable to pay the government, so the rest of society is required to cover those who cannot pay. These are duties of commission,

So, you born with virtually nothing but negative rights. You are not born with a car. You are not born with health care. And you are not born with a gun.

Now, before any of your heads burst into flame, I'm not addressing any aspect of the second amendment. I don't really care to step into a mess that's been fomented by bad grammar. What I do care about is the economic consequence of gun use. Is there a "free market" solution to the problem that guns pose?

There are two high level components to the issue of private gun ownership. First is the private cost, which can be characterized as the consumer's cost of acquiring the gun and ammunition, and the cost of consuming the legitimate "targets" (edible wildlife, bullseyes, etc.) The second is the public cost. The public costs are costs NOT borne by the consumer of the gun. These public costs are commonly known as externalities. Negative costs of guns in a society are deaths, destruction or confiscation of property, and the costs of the judicial/penal system of adjudicating damages.

The essential debate is how do we lower the externality costs? What are reasonable means to do so? If we can't lower the total social cost (private cost + the externality cost), then can we figure ways to shift the burden of the externality costs of gun ownership to those who own them, making them private costs? If we decide that is a possible pathway, how do we enforce this?

Not that I'm equating or suggesting this as a possibility, but consider car ownership. There are a lot of externalities to owning and operating a car. One must be tested and licensed. One must have a background check. One must pay fees. One must have insurance against damage to the vehicle itself, other vehicles, other property and medical insurance for occupants and pedestrians. In the case of car ownership, society has deemed that the negative externalities of owning and operating a car should be born as much as possible by the individual.

What are the legitimate arguments against this kind of solution? (Anyone using fascism or Hitler in their argument automatically lose the debate. The Supreme Court has upheld the more than 20,000 laws already on the books restricting gun use, so kiss that lame argument goodbye.) What arguments can be made that victims of gun ownership should bear those costs? What arguments can be made that taxes should be higher so that gun owners can have lower private costs?

The Constitution affords us rights, but none of them are free. We pay, one way or another. So what's fair?
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  1. Old Comment
    Really interesting read...! I particularly wish that pro-guns folk look at the logic of your argument, particularly at the part of the requirements of owning a car in comparison to owning a gun!
    Posted 01-18-2013 at 04:25 PM by KevSears KevSears is offline

  2. Old Comment
    Actually, Kev, getting a gun license is an extremely rigorous process.

    Food for thought: Why is it that when somebody drinks and drives, and ends up killing people, nobody blames the car? Well obviously that's because the car wasn't operating itself. So why then do people blame guns when someone uses one to kill? There are a number of ways to commit murder. We should be more concerned about people than guns. And that is why you go through background checks before you can own a gun.
    Posted 01-19-2013 at 02:49 AM by burningmetal burningmetal is offline
  3. Old Comment
    xan's Avatar
    I don't want to distract from the intent of the thread, so I'll point out a bit of the obvious. Modern man uses tools to improve his economic condition. Some tools have no externalities, like levers, while others, like nuclear bombs have many.

    Externalities arise as a consequence of the intended use. In the case of cars, the intended use is transportation; the externalities of operating a car include pollution, collision and death. A gun's intended purpose is killing, or practicing hitting a target. Externalities of a gun would be killing an innocent person; to be extremely clear, modern law and morality do not allow many instances for an individual to make a unilateral determination of guilt.

    Guns represent a huge challenge to a well ordered society as is intended use is generally illegal except for designated hunting and target practice. For many instances of gun ownership, use entirely produces negative externalities.

    In this way, one cannot make the transitive argument of operating a car, or many other tools whose intended purpose and utility are generally unrelated to the negative externalities produced, to a tool whose intended use is to produce negative externalities.
    Posted 01-19-2013 at 09:21 AM by xan xan is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Xan, allow me to put this in plain english.

    You may use the word externalities as many times as you please, but the fact of the matter is that guns are not meant for murder. They are meant for hunting, target practice and most of all, defense. The fact that some use guns for violence is strictly a matter of it being the primary available weapon, and the fault lies with the perpetrator, not the gun.

    Genghis Khan, one of, if not the MOST brutal leader in history, ruthlessly conquered northeast Asia and built the largest empire known to man at the time, and it sustained well after his death. How did he do all this? He and his army had not guns, not bombs, not tanks, but simple things like swords and clubs. Those were the weapons of the time and Khan was able to slaughter all those people because he was smart, for one, but mostly because he had an insatiable thirst for power through bloodshed.

    That, my friend, is pure evil. And it is that sort of evil that makes any weapon dangerous.

    Why do I say this? Because it illustrates how mankind adapts. Today, guns are the primary weapons. Every day, guns are used to COMBAT violence, just as much if not more than they are used to commit violence.

    Still think guns are bad? Okay. Let's ban them. Then what? Criminals start breaking into homes, knowing the people are unarmed. But let me just play along and assume that the government could actually get rid of EVERY single gun in America... Then criminals would just find another way. They always have, and we've always had to adapt.

    So in the case of a car, it doesn't matter how many more or less possibilities (or externalities, as you would say) there are for something bad to happen. If a person wants to run you over, he can. Or it could be a drunk driver. Again, blame the person.

    As for your opinion on the costs of owning a car vs. owning a gun: It takes an absolutely evil person to commit murder. It only takes a moment of distraction to cause a massive accident and kill several people, in a car. On average, there are 6 million accidents per year, with 3 million resulting in injuries, and in excess of 40,000 deaths annually.

    Here is the link to those statistics: Car Accident Statistics --

    It is an enormous responsibility, as you are surrounded by cars at almost all times. It's not a joyride, and should not be treated that way. Insurance is necessary because if you get into a significant wreck, you MUST have help paying for the damages. So you have to pay a fee for that... I'd rather a monthly fee of a couple hundred, give or take, per month than to have to pay out of pocket for thousands of dollars in damage. Not that paying bills is ever fun, but in the case of insurance I understand the necessity of it. If you're a safe driver, your rates won't be too high.

    Guns should be taken equally as seriously in terms of how you use them, without a doubt. But guns don't carry all that risk. They can be deadly, but they are not that hard to use. You almost HAVE to intentionally shoot someone, as accidents are very rare. Yes murders happen, aswell as accidents, and it is tragic. But you cannot predict how a person will act. You get a background check, you get your fingerprints taken, and you have to demonstrate the ability to properly use the gun. That is the law, and I believe it is perfectly just. Why should anyone pay insurance on a gun? If you shoot someone you go to prison... think about that.
    Posted 01-19-2013 at 01:56 PM by burningmetal burningmetal is offline
  5. Old Comment
    xan's Avatar
    This blog is explicitly not about the morality of guns. It is strictly about the costs to society and the individual of gun ownership in a well ordered society.

    The general postulation is that weapons have no productive value (the use of weapons does not create products or services that improve the human condition) in a well ordered society. The use of weapons either produces no value because they are not being used, or negative value, because they destroy or kill. One could argue that the inputs used to create guns do not add to the productive capacity of a nation, as they do not produce a product that increases wealth.

    The costs associated with their use are the issue. Who should bear the burden?

    Sample Statistics from the CDC:
    Murders 11,078
    Suicides 19,392
    Injuries/property damage **unknown because NRA successfully lobbied Congress to prohibit the CDC from studying or collecting data on injuries from firearms**

    What are the arguments again for not requiring insurance to own a gun?
    Posted 01-20-2013 at 01:59 PM by xan xan is offline
  6. Old Comment
    I gave you the reason for no gun insurance already. Insurance is meant to cover for damage/losses/medical. It's not a means to make up for any economic loss for the price of manufacturing anything. Where do you get the idea that's what insurance is for? The true cost of misusing a gun, is prison. That's as strong a deterrent as you can get.

    Also, I am not near dumb enough to believe your blog isn't intended to further demonize gun owners. You are trying a different angle, and it is not adding up.

    Your numbers on murders and suicides fell far short of the number of car accidents and deaths. And also, the suicide stat is meaningless. When someone is prepared to take their own life, they will do it. It would be just a easy to overdose. Would you like to talk about the negative externalities of prescription drugs? Should we not have medication because someone might commit suicide? I well stated in my previous reply that it doesn't matter what people use. They'll use what is available to them. What is the productive value of a bow and arrow? Nothing. But if there were no guns it would be used as a primary weapon. Once again, people like to hunt and also like to be protected. That sounds pretty valuable to me.

    You continue to ignore the numerous positives that come from guns. Your argument is that they are either unproductive or used to destroy or kill. But what about cops who use them to defend citizens? What about soldiers who use weapons to defend our country, or people who just want to have some peace of mind? If people are buying guns, then profit is being made. What makes you think those who don't want guns are somehow being burdened by this?

    Tell me, how can guns not provide wealth, when people buy them? Does it make you angry every time someone makes a purchase if it does not put money in your pocket? Comic books don't bring wealth to the general public, but they make money for those selling them. Isn't that the point of business? Nothing continues to pump money into the economy after it is already paid for, with the exception of service charges on our phones, and paying utilities. The main source of money for the economy is our income tax dollars. When you purchase a gun, you do pay a sales tax. Do you think we should be taxed monthly for something we've already paid for?

    The only things that hurt our economy are: 1) Businesses being so incredibly overtaxed that they can't retain enough employees to be productive, and eventually fail, causing even more jobs to be lost. 2) Those tax dollars are then used to subsidize businesses that have ALREADY PROVEN to be unproductive, and NOT used to bring down the debt. Or any form of wasteful spending by our government. If people buy guns , who cares if they ever use them? They PAID for it, didn't they?
    Posted 01-20-2013 at 07:40 PM by burningmetal burningmetal is offline
  7. Old Comment
    xan's Avatar
    For easy reference:

    A List Of Fallacious Arguments

    Critical Thinking vs Specious Arguments

    I find these concepts useful when I construct my critical thinking. Bad thinking = bad results.

    Nothing personal to anyone engaged in this discussion, either active or passive.

    To go back to the original thesis, PRIVATE gun ownership and use that is not for hunting or recreational target practice carries a social cost beyond the private costs of acquisition. How do we manage those costs and who should bear the burden of those costs?
    Posted 01-21-2013 at 02:47 PM by xan xan is offline
  8. Old Comment
    In other words you don't want to answer any of my questions? That is not a form of critical thought. I use facts and common sense, not an internet list of ideas, for my own critical thinking.

    You evade nearly every question I ask with another question. I am specifically speaking to you, not anyone else. If you are offended by the directness of my replies, then perhaps debate is not for you. But I digress.

    Your social cost theory is exactly that, a theory. It goes back to the "negative externality" argument. You can not rationally make a distinction between the negative affects of a gun, without being able to prove what a person would do without one. I'll go back to the car reference. Cars are very positive in that they get us where we need to go, and they are much more convenient than traveling by horse or foot. But there are so many cars on the road that a lot of bad accidents happen. That is certainly a negative. I'm not lobbying to get rid of cars. It's simply an illustration. But if we are to make economic arguments based on things outside of upfront money, then we better go down the list of things that have negative social impact.

    I don't hear any arguments that we should get rid of prescription drugs, which people use to commit suicide by overdose at times, or people become so dependent on them that they can not function rationally without them. Or the internet which is used in negative ways, such as stalking, bullying and generally dumbing down society with all the false information and rumors circulating. There are those who use it for positive things however. So how do we determine how much positive vs. negative impact any of these things have? It's hearsay.

    You're asking me how we manage these "social costs" and who should bear the burden. How in the world do I answer that question when there is no direct evidence of the overall impact on society, as opposed to those who are personally affected by either owning a gun or being a victim of tragedy. I don't argue in theory.
    Posted 01-21-2013 at 11:40 PM by burningmetal burningmetal is offline
  9. Old Comment
    xan's Avatar
    To those who don't understand externalities, we'll start with something simple. Coal powered electric power generating plants produce AC current distributed over power lines for private and public consumption. The plants burn coal for the heat to boil water, which moves through pipes turning turbine engines. Coal is mostly carbon, but contains various other elements and compounds, including mercury, sulfur and nitrogen. Coal is burned, producing carbon dioxide and water, but the other elements also burn, producing sulfur dioxide (acid rain), mercury oxides (known carcinogens), and also produce particulate discharge (soot). Acid rain kills crops ($), damages metal (cars, buildings, bridges, $). Mercury levels have a direct relationship to birth defects (no arms, brain underdevelopment, etc). Soot levels increase respiratory distress, causing increase in drug usage and hospitalization. These are classic examples of negative externalities, all of which are measured as a byproduct of producing electricity, and have costs associated with them. None are "theoretical." All of these costs are borne by the society at large, and are not paid for by the producer of the pollution nor is it paid for in the market price of the electricity consumed. It is borne entirely by the person affected or, in the case of public property, by the tax base. Many strategies have been implemented to shift the burden of the externality costs directly to either the consumer of power or to the producers (which ultimately gets passed on to the consumer of the power in the form of higher rates.) These include taxes, limits and unilateral mandatory prevention.

    So, now focus on guns. Let's take the example of the Aurora massacre to identify "negative externalities" of gun use. It is an extreme example, but, nonetheless captures the categories that policy makers use to frame appropriate legislation, as non-legal use of guns carry the same potential externalities regardless of scale. The assailant used a 12 gauge shotgun, an MP-15 semiautomatic with a 100 clip cartridge and a standard Glock 22 handgun. So any use outside of the target range of any of these is likely to have negative consequence, or externalities.

    70 people were shot, killing 10, and one woman's injuries led to a miscarriage. The following is a partial list of costs to society which were/are being incurred:
    • There is a loss of productivity of all of those injured or killed,
    • The healthcare system used resources to treat the injuries, including blood, devices, services and drugs, not to mention the psychological services for PTSD of the victims,
    • The judicial/penal system uses resources to prosecute, including incarceration at an average in CO of $32,000 per year,
    • There was a loss in the Aurora tax base due to the deaths, as well as departures of some families in the aftermath,
    • The movie theatre was closed for 6 months, which also caused a decrease in patronage of the stores in the mall. (there was significant damage to the theatre)

    The Harvard School of Public Health has studied gun ownership as a function of public health, much like they study any cause of mortality/morbidity. Their site captures the analysis of decades of data. They also include statistics on what I call "defensive morbidity" or the use of gun weapons in instances of self defense which cause harm (also known as defensive gun use or "DGU"). Annually, there are about 200 instances of such in the US, resulting in 69 deaths in 2011 (latest figures). It should be noted that the NRA has blocked the CDC from doing a more extensive study in coordination with state and local authorities, as many questions about gun use persist.

    Finally, I am not interested in the morality of gun ownership. I am only interested in characterizing the economic cost of gun ownership beyond the direct private cost and how one might shift the costs so that as much of the burden of the costs are borne by the direct consumer. Any other non-gun factor (e.g., drones, nukes, knives) has no bearing on the analysis. Policies directly related to the costs shifting cause behavioral changes, some anticipated, some not, and can alter the effectiveness of certain policy initiatives.
    Posted 01-23-2013 at 06:59 PM by xan xan is offline
  10. Old Comment
    I'm not speaking about morality of guns, specifically. I have touched on that some, as it pertains to the overall argument used by anti-gun people. As far as your point, you are telling me one minute that you're concerned about social cost, and then it switches to economic loss.

    Circular reasoning will get this discussion nowhere.

    I stated that we cannot accurately measure social cost of guns anymore than we can measure the effects of the internet. There are pro's and cons, and my point is that if we're going to shift the greater burden on the gun owners (which they already do bear the greatest burden, considering they are paying for their guns), then we better go down the line with everything else.

    Like it or not, morality is part of this equation. So please don't repeat to me that you don't care about morality. I get that you don't. The fact of the matter is that while you might be able to look at some numbers that show negative effect, you are ignoring the positive effects. There are not enough police to protect and serve the ENTIRE public at all times. Taking away that security from the those who would like to be able to protect themselves could lead to an enormous spike in crime, should guns be banned. That would certainly be in the category of social cost.

    With this in mind, I think it is absurd to suggest that people who only want to protect themselves, should bear the brunt of the burden when a disaster happens. That is effectively linking all gun owners together as murderers.

    Case in point: I did not ask Barack Obama to give a 750 billion dollar bailout to a failing car company, and I don't know anyone personally who thinks that was a good idea. And yet, we are all bearing that burden, are we not? That's the way the economy works, we all bear the burden for everything, with the top 2 or 3 percent obviously paying more than everyone else.

    So why, then, should JUST gun owners be responsible for bearing the burden of others mistakes? No person who is not personally involved in a shooting is directly paying the price, but yes, there are overall economic impacts. I have not, and would not deny that. But anytime something happens, be it a shooting, a flood, an increase in car accidents, there is always economic backlash. Insurance rates go up, there are more laws added for safety and you have to pay for various courses, etc. The theme with all these instances is that they effect everyone in some way, and we all know that.

    The problem I have is the implication that gun owners are somehow different. Why should they be singled out for something that for something that they didn't cause? Why should the burden not be balanced out? On the surface, it seems wrong that we should ever have to pay for anything that doesn't directly involve us, but it unfortunately has to, otherwise there would be widespread poverty.

    Theoretically, You could force gun owners to pay insurance, but that would penalize far too many people who don't deserve it. More people own cars than those who own guns. The vast majority of those who own guns are well versed in the laws and keep their guns hidden and often unloaded. There is a reason you are not allowed to carry a concealed weapon. It's not something you just tote around. Whereas with cars, every time we get in our vehicles we have a possibility of causing a massive amount of damage and/or death. Regardless of our intentions. That is why insurance is necessary for car owners.

    If you try to quantify the risk of owning a gun to that of car owners by simply looking at the numbers of deaths, then you would have to pay even higher insurance rates than you do for vehicles, simply because there are less gun owners to bear the burden. Hundreds of dollars for a little piece of metal?

    Here is the point I would most like for you to take from this: Guns do not bear near the risk of vehicles. It is the person owning it who can make it dangerous. They don't fire themselves sitting on a shelf or in a case, and accidents are far more rare. One does not randomly fire, and HIT an innocent bystander on accident very often. Almost never. Cars are an immediate risk every single time they are used. There are countless ways of being distracted and accidentally hitting someone.

    This is why I believe it is ridiculous to suggest insurance on guns. And without insurance, there is no way to shift the burden. We don't have to agree with everything in this country, and we certainly don't, but we either share our economic burden (without socialistic tax hikes on the wealthy, bringing down the job market), or we can watch ourselves implode.

    I get your point, and I can see that you are apparently of the belief that if you don't purchase something, you shouldn't bear any consequences from it. I am simply saying that we have always had to bear the burdens of things that we maybe didn't condone, or simply had no personal stake in. To change that now, would cause consequences that I'm not sure anyone is ready for.
    Posted 02-08-2013 at 10:25 AM by burningmetal burningmetal is offline
  11. Old Comment
    saintfan's Avatar
    I didn't read the whole thread. I can tell from the first post you're leading up to a requirement that those who own guns purchase some sort of liability insurance.

    Well, who's going to buy insurance for all the illegal guns - you know, the ones used in most crime? You idea just added yet another financial burden to "we the people".

    You got anything else? Because this idea is bunk...
    Posted 02-13-2013 at 06:43 PM by saintfan saintfan is online now
  12. Old Comment
    TheOak's Avatar
    Which is why the Bill of Rights should only be amended with positive rights.
    Posted 03-04-2013 at 04:08 PM by TheOak TheOak is offline
  13. Old Comment
    TheOak's Avatar
    Xan - if you wish to look at the economic costs associated with guns, dont just focus on where the guns are. Try looking where they are not, at the costs associated with low gun ownership in the UK but having somewhere near a 5x-10x crime rate.
    Posted 03-04-2013 at 04:12 PM by TheOak TheOak is offline
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