Friday, March 8, 2013

The Nelson, Georgia proposal that requires all citizens to buy a gun is a serious proposal

It should be treated as such.  A number of people have posted opinions that classify this proposal as being idiotic or tyrannical.  It is neither, as careful thought will show.

Firstly, Nelson's problem is real: they have one full-time policeman, which means that there is no officer on duty better than 70% of the time.  I have no idea how serious a problem this is; I don't know the crime rate in Nelson, and the population is so small that it's likely to measure easily - the variance each year could very well be quite large, because crime rates are measured in events per 100,000 population.  Nelson is home to around 1,200 souls.

Let us assume that the Nelson city council has a working understanding of the crime situation there.  They have thwo options to address it.

1. Raise taxes and hire more police.  This means going from one officer to a force of 4 (you need more than 3 to cover 24x7x365 because weekends, vacation, and sick days are a fact of life).  This is, as you have noticed, a quadrupling of the force.

2. Accept lower levels of service.  Don't hire them, and rely on county sheriffs or other towns for as much help as they can provide.  This is in fact what they are currently doing, and the town council notes that response times are quite large when the town police officer is not on duty.  They note that the town residents are responsible for their own safety and protection during that time.

There's no magic here.  What the proposed ordinance does is put the townspeople on notice that they are, and have traditionally been considered police;  Sir Robert Peel's principles of policing say this explicitly:
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Traditionally in this land we call people living under this principle "the militia".

Once again, there's no magic at work here.  The Nelson town council have chosen option #2, because option #1 is prohibitively expensive and there is no option #3.  They are reminding the citizens what the situation is and what responsibilities the citizens face - willing or not.  If the citizens of Nelson think that this is the wrong decision, they are entirely free to vote the town council out of office at the next election.

But the proposal is not idiotic, and in fact is a very American solution with a very, very long history.  In colonial times all able bodied male citizens were required to be enrolled in the militia.  If you saw that as an infringement on your rights, you could always pull up stakes and move.  Those that remained (i.e. most of them) were required to purchase a gun and ammunition suitable to militia service.  If someone was too poor to buy one, the town collectively purchased one for him.

This is the tradition that informs Nelson's proposed ordinance.  It is a 250 year tradition, and a quite practical solution to the problem of the common defense.  Again, any citizen of Nelson who dislikes this is free to vote the town council out of office, or to pull up stakes and move.

And so it's simply wrong to say that this is dumb, or an unreasonable infringement of our Constitutional rights.  The men who wrote the Constitution would have seen this as astonishingly normal and unremarkable.

Now it's not clear that this law will pass, and if it does it's not clear whether it would be enforced.  Kennesaw. Georgia has had a similar law on the books for decades, and it's never been enforced even once.  It doesn't look like it will be.

But the law serves notice to both citizens and criminals as to what both can expect.  There's a virtue in clarity, and this provides it in bushel basket loads.  And the message does in fact get absorbed: when Kennesaw's law went into effect, crime fell 27% the following year.

This discussion under way in Nelson deserves our respect.  The proposal may be undesirable for any number of reasons, but it deserves a hearing on the merits.  Those of use can use this as a useful discussion with leftists who are willing to have an open mind.


Glen Filthie said...

Nope, sorry, it's tyrannical and I say that as a pro gun owner. Furthermore it violates your own libertarian principles.

You can't force people to be responsible for themselves. Forcing gov't healthcare on them is unconstitutional, and forcing a pro-gun political ideology on them is as bad as trying to force an anti-gun political viewpoint on them.

The decision to properly defend yourself is a personal one and the associated politics of that are none of the gov'ts business.

jon spencer said...

I think it would be more like four and a half workers for a 24/7/365 shift.
Even more expensive.
A rough guesstimate on the cheap side of around 50k per year per officer for salary and benefits alone.
For a small or medium sized tax base that will hurt.

Borepatch said...

Glen, I'm not a libertarian.

Divemedic said...

I'm not sure that requiring a person to own a gun is any less tyrannical than prohibiting a person from owning one.

There is a third option: establish a volunteer police force. The cost of screening and training less than a dozen citizens would be marginal, compared with the cost of hiring a single officer.

ProudHillbilly said...

Can't they just tell people not to do bad things? I mean, apparently there are folks who think that we can stop rape just by telling men not to rape women.

Goober said...

Its fascism. Government should not have a say in this one way or the other. Forcing ownership of anything on someone is wrong. Its authoritarian. Its technocratic. Its smarter men than you dictating how you should choose. Its one size fits all assumptions by people that think they have all the answers. In short it's everything that I loathe about government all wrapped up in one shit sandwich and it needs to be killed with fire.

Goober said...

Borepatch said...

Remember, the founders explicitly rejected liberty (democracy). They chose Ordered Liberty (a Republic).

They might have been wrong. The Nelson town council might be wrong. But there is a tradition that pre-dates this Republic that says that the militia are the people, and that the people ultimately are responsible for the social order.

People who don't like this can do like early settlers - pull up stakes and move. But when they're in a new place that doesn't "infringe" their rights, they'll find that they're still responsible for the social order.


It's a very practical, very American approach. Progressives would say to raise taxes so you could sprinkle the magic government dust on it. This is a different approach.

Like I said, it may be wrong, but it's not crazy, which is what a lot of the commentariat is saying.

The Czar of Muscovy said...

I think this is a false choice. As some here have said, there are alternatives: leave things the way they are (is there indeed a growing crime problem there? If so, possibly caused by something other than availability of firearms), use a volunteer police department as many small, rural communities have, or make weapons more accessible by lowering or eliminating sales tax on them, or by offering bulk purchase discounts.

I do not believe the militia argument works here at all: the Constitution does NOT require all people to be in a militia; the proposed law de facto does, however, by giving no opt out. And the militia and local police forces would have had very different goals: your definition of a militia would have the Constitution allow for vigilanteeism, which is indeed not what the founders would tolerate. So I think that argument is a big stretch.

Folks should remember this has been asked and answered before, such as when a Florida county looked into requiring residents to be armed. It was ruled unconstitutional then for these same reasons: you are forcing people to do something against their will. The Constitution, remember, is a requirement that government do things against its will. Not the other way around.

The Czar of Muscovy said...

Also, while it is fodder for good analysis and discussion, I see no evidence this is not part of gestural politics: a stunt for the sake of drawing attention. And the timing on this is plain wrong for us gun enthusiasts.