After hurricane Katrina the number of thefts skyrocketed. Individuals scrambled to defend themselves and their property from roving bands of looters. Likewise after hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard looting in affected areas skyrocketed. Once again individuals found themselves scrambling to defend themselves and their property. What isn’t mentioned by most people is that the state lowered the cost of committing violent acts such as looting.
In the aftermath of Katrina the National Guard actually confiscated firearms from individuals. Likewise many of the states heavily affected by Sandy, including New York and New Jersey, have very stringent gun control laws on the books. In both cases looters could be reasonably sure that their victims were unable or poorly able to defend themselves.
Whenever the state moves to make self-defense more difficult, either through confiscating weapons or implementing laws that make legal self-defense difficult, it reduces the cost of performing violence. Robert Heinlein wrote, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” in his novel Beyond the Horizon. It’s true, an armed society is a polite society. Criminals, like everybody else, perform actions as a means to achieve ends. In the case of a thief their ends are to obtain property. They may want the property for personal use or to exchange it for something else. Either way they have determined that taking the desired property from another is a better method than exchanging voluntarily for it. This brings us back to cost-benefit analysis.
The cost of robbing an armed individual is higher than the cost of robbing an unarmed individual. An armed individual may resist the robbery attempt with a great deal of violence whereas an unarmed individual will only have access to the violence they can produce with their bare hands. Therefore a criminal faces far greater bodily harm, and even loss of life, when they rob an armed individual but likely face little risk of bodily harm or death, especially if they themselves are armed, when robbing an unarmed individual. The cost of robbing an armed individual is relatively high compared to the cost of robbing an unarmed individual.
By disarming individuals or severely restricting the ability of individuals to arm themselves the state reduces the cost of committing violent acts. Laughably they usually justify disarming individuals under the guise of protecting individuals. Gun control is usually justified to the public by claiming it will prevent violent individuals from obtaining firearms. Ironically gun control laws actually increase the likelihood of violent crimes by reducing the cost of initiating violence. I would argue that allowing everybody to remain armed, even individuals with a history of violence, would be far safer than preventing anybody from being armed. Why reduce the cost of performing violent acts? Perhaps a great number of violent criminals would have been dissuaded from committing their violent crimes had they faced the likely threat of bodily harm or death.
The state’s reduction of the cost of violence doesn’t stop at disarming individuals or passing laws that make self-defense more difficult. Through its monopoly on violence the state reduces the cost of violence for individuals in its employ. Consider the man who is facing the death penalty for defending himself against police officers. Why are officers so willing to perform no knock raids? Because the state has granted them special legal protection from consequences caused by unannounced raids. Individuals inside a targeted home face potential death if they defend themselves from police officers whereas police officers seldom face any consequences for harming a homeowner. If somebody wants to commit a violent act they simply need to join the state’s employ; receive an official costume, badge, and gun; and enforce the state’s decrees. So long as your perform violence in the name of the state the cost is relatively low.
People often ponder about the cause of high violent crime rates in the United States. One of the causes is that initiating violence is relatively cheap. Combining a generally disarmed populace with legal methods for psychopaths to perform violent acts nets you a lot of violence. The state protecting us from violent individuals is a farce. We’re subjected to more violence because of the state.
EDIT: 2012-11-14 14:40: General spelling and grammatical fixes. Thanks to Steven for pointing them out.