I often disagree with Economist, but I read respected British magazines because their opinions are usually well-reasoned and supported by credible research and documented facts. There is one area, however, where they become as absurd as a bull before a red rag: guns in the hands of ordinary people instead of government agents. I was reminded of this by their article “More Americans Trying to Take Their Weapons on Planes: Relaxing Gun Laws Create More Barriers at Airports” on August 11, 2022.
Consider the two polar model of the state. On the one hand, you have a Hobbesian-like state, which must be all powerful to control its subjects, perhaps for their own good. The latter are disarmed and Leviathan comes as close to a practical monopoly of power as humanly possible. My late friend George Jonas visited Hungary as a tourist two decades after fleeing the country. One night, walking with his female companion on the pitch-black Grand Boulevard in Budapest (pitch-black was the color of night in the Eastern European capital), he panicked. George recalled in his memoirs (Beethoven Masque: Notes on My Life and Times [Key Porter Books, 2005]pages 263-264):
He took my hand and hugged me. “Relax,” I said. “You are in Hungary. You have nothing to worry about here, until you see a policeman.
On the other hand, consider a model similar to what Anthony de Jassay calls the “capitalist state.” It does not interfere with their activities except to prevent illegal violence among their citizens, protect their property and enforce their treaties. It does not “govern” but merely resists any takeover, foreign or domestic, by a more aggressive state. It doesn’t have all the guns. Indeed, the existence of “private power” enforces the limitations of the capitalist state. As far as guns are concerned, this state may vaguely remind us of New York City in the mid-19th century, with no restrictions on private individuals carrying guns. Professor Frank Morn describes the professional restructuring of the New York City police in 1944 as somewhat of a London model (“The Use of Firearms and the Police: The Historical Evolution of American Values,” Don B. Cates, ed. Firearms and Violence: Issues for Public Policy [Ballinger/Harper & Row, 1984], p. 500):
At a party in 1845, it was reported that four-fifths of the gentlemen present were armed with pistols for protection against thieves, yet for nearly a decade of its formative years the New York police were neither uniformed nor armed. In 1853 officers were officially uniformed, but the carrying of guns was still prohibited. The truncheon was the official weapon.
In the article cited above, EconomistIts underlying theory is, perhaps subconsciously, much closer to the first than to the second model of the state. It reports on the number of Americans caught with guns at airports, with warnings that they mistakenly brought their carry-on luggage. These errors, it is suggested, occur more in the South because of “loose gun laws”:
They often grow in states with lax gun laws. People in Georgia or Texas often carry a gun like others carry their keys.
In April, Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, signed a “constitutional carry” law, allowing people in the state to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
The magazine fears that, someday, a gun will get on an airplane and accidentally discharge because (can you imagine?) people usually carry their pistols loaded (instead of, I think, carrying them in small bundles of disassembled parts). I suspect it never crossed the minds of our usually imaginative journalists that if people could get on armed planes, the terrorists on the 9/11 hijacked flights could have been stopped more or less at low cost. And note that air marshals carry loaded pistols on flights for a purpose.
Economist Ignoring that the right of ordinary citizens to bear arms is not a quirk of the American South. I would recommend that its senior editors and their American correspondents read about their own country where, until about a hundred years ago, ordinary people could carry concealed handguns without a permit. They could start with Colin Greenwood Firearms Control: A Study of Armed Crime and Firearms Control in England and Wales (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), and Joyce Lee Malcolm, To Keep and Bear Guns – Origins of an Anglo-American Right (Harvard University Press, 1994). It is interesting that, for part of the 19th century until the early 20th century, the freedom to own and bear guns was generally more protected in the UK than in the US. The fact that violent crime was already lower than in the UK suggests that Americans are more violent with or without guns.
For all their critical spirit and investigative skills, journalists Economist Also unaware of some important differences between Southern states and other liberal places in America. One of these was the significant handgun controls that first appeared in southern states after the Civil War and were originally intended to prevent free blacks from being armed. Many tactics were used so that the whites or Klansmen themselves could be armed – the police employing them was one way. (See Don B. Cates, Restricting handguns: Liberal skeptics speak out [North River Press, 1979]pp. 12–20.)
In fact, constitutional carry for all, also called “unauthorized carry,” came to the South very late (as defined by the federal government), when it came at all. Here are the dates:
- Alabama, effective in 2023;
- Arkansas, 2013;
- Delaware: No constitutional carry;
- Florida: No constitutional carry;
- Georgia, 2022;
- Kentucky, 2019;
- Louisiana, no constitutional carry;
- Maryland, no constitutional carry;
- Mississippi, 2015;
- North Carolina, no constitutional carry;
- Oklahoma, 2019;
- South Carolina, no constitutional carry;
- Tennessee, 2021;
- Texas, 2021;
- Virginia, no constitutional carry;
- West Virginia, 2016.
Compare with more liberal states – for example:
- Vermont, 1791;
- Alaska, 2003;
- Maine, 2015;
- New Hampshire (2017).
In Maine, where I live, like many liberal states, it was easy to get a permit to carry before constitutional carry. There are very few exceptions where an American resident over the age of 21 can openly or concealed carry a handgun in Maine: federal government buildings, schools and universities, state parks (but not limited to federal equivalents), and private property where the owner is visibly posted. That gun is not allowed. These privately restricted spaces are very rare. For example, I visit my bank armed. (I just did a quick count, obviously too easy to provide a reliable proof of anything: in Maine, in 2020, there were 12 bank robberies for every 100,000 residents; in California, the number was 113, about 10 times higher.)
Probably its journalists Economist Should I go back to America after reading the books recommended above, especially those by Greenwood and Malcolm)? This will at least help them ask the right questions about it.
PS: WARNING ABOUT THE FEATURED IMAGE IN THIS POST: DO NOT HOLD YOUR PISTOL LIKE THE PERSON IN THE IMAGE UNLESS READY TO SHOOT IMMEDIATELY. If it is not intended to describe the situation of the woman depicted, her index finger should be kept off the trigger. The apparent position of his other index finger is also questionable. I blame our stock-image supplier, also based in Britain!