The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Adam Smith Explains Why Good Guys with Guns Don’t Stop School Shooters

By Eric A. Anderson

After almost every mass shooting since Wayne LaPierre became leader of the National Rifle Association (NRA), he and his minions have said that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. In Wayne’s world, the bad guys will cower in fear of a ubiquitously armed citizenry always on the ready to draw their weapons in self-defense. The image is attractive and probably resonates because it’s the story in so many movies and television shows, and harkens back to our myths of the Wild West.

Per economic theory, what we should do is arm children in schools, but I trust it’s obvious why that would be a bad idea.

Since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold executed twelve children at Columbine High School in 1999, school shootings have become commonplace. Between Columbine, and the most recent mass school executions at Marjory Stoneman Mason High School, at least sixty-five of our nation’s children under the age of eighteen have been killed by bad guys with guns. In not one instance has a good guy with a gun shown up to save the day, despite the fact that, in several of the mass executions, “good guys with guns” in the form of school resource officers had been present but failed to protect the children. Why? What explains the disconnect between the NRA’s vision of peace through fire-power and reality?

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, may shed some light.

Although the origin of the term homo economicus remains disputed, it is unlikely the term would exist today without Adam Smith’s seminal work The Wealth of Nations. There, Smith states his dictum, now reduced to dogma by neo-classical economists, that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” From there, it is no great stretch to arrive at a modern definition, as provided by Chris Doucouliagos in his 2016 paper titled, “A Note on the Evolution of Homo Economicus”:

The neoclassical economists’ Homo Economicus has several characteristics, the most important of which are: (1) maximizing (optimizing) behavior; (2) the cognitive ability to exercise rational choice, and; (3) individualistic behavior and independent tastes and preferences.

Put simply, Smith’s self-interested, individual rationally exercises independent tastes and preferences to produce optimal self-interested behavior. Which begs the question: What rational human being’s tastes and preferences would lead them to believe it is in their optimal interest to rush into a hail of AR-15 rifle fire? The only answer possible is an individual motivated purely by altruism.

Many with only a passing familiarity with Adam Smith do not know that he had much to say on the subject of altruism. Three theories of altruism had already been outlined by the middle of the eighteenth century that mirror modern theories: (1) the egoistic perspective, can be seen as a variant of reciprocal cooperation, maintaining that one may share his income with another to induce a reciprocal transfer in the future; (2) the egocentric view, maintains that a donor would donate a resource if the pleasure of watching the happiness of others exceeds at the margin the donor’s satisfaction from consuming some resource himself; and (3) the altercentric framework views the benefactor’s action as stemming from a moral sense as binding as rules of honesty. However, Smith took issue with all of these approaches, preferring instead an alternative based of the idea of sympathy.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith conceived of sympathy as the foundation of beneficence, or in modern terms, altruism. Elias Khalil writing for the American Institute for Economic Research states in a paper titled Adam Smith and Three Theories of Altruism states:

For Smith, the motive to satisfy self-interest and other-interest stems from the same general tendency of humans to sympathize- in one case with the self and in the other with the beneficiary. That is, Smith did not view self-interest as radically different from other-interest: both are simply different instances of sympathy. We witness that man acts more often in sympathy with the self (i.e., out of self-interest) because man is obviously more familiar with the circumstance of his own self than with the circumstance of others. That is, for Smith, there is no fundamental distinction, but only a difference in degree, between one’s own feelings as opposed to the feeling of others towards one’s interest.

Smith’s own summation of the “difference in degree” between one’s own interest, and the interest of another, reveals the problem inherent in relying on a random good guy with a gun to protect our children, stating:

After himself, the members of his own family, those who usually live in the same house with him, his parents, his children, his brothers and sisters, are naturally the objects of his warmest affections. They are naturally and usually the persons upon whose happiness or misery his conduct must have the greatest influence. He is more habituated to sympathize with them. He knows better how every thing is likely to affect them, and his sympathy with them is more precise and determinate, than it can be with the greater part of other people. It approaches nearer, in short, to what he feels for himself.

Getting yourself killed for fifteen-dollars an hour for people you don’t care about as much as you care about yourself isn’t rational behaviour. Investing more money in guards or teachers whose sympathy for themselves is greater than their sympathy for school students is irrational.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


The Problem With Empathy and the Advantage of Sympathy


Modern Violence, Resistance, and the Calculus of Revolution


  1. The Stephen Miller Band

    The problem is that our society does not find it in our interest to arm what we claim are our most vulnerable and precious posessions—our children.

    That’s our problem? Wow. I never knew.

    So, I assume since that’s our problem, all we need to do to solve it is to arm all the students.

    If this isn’t what the author implied, he needs to rewrite it, or at least that sentence, because otherwise I fail to see how being reluctant, or disgusted by such a notion, to arm adolescents is a problem.

    Repeal The Second Amendment

    Got Blood?

  2. Look it up: America leads the world in firearms per capita, and it’s not even close. If more guns were the answer, we would have already solved the problem.

  3. Ian Welsh

    Yup, SMB, edited with his permission.

  4. Billikin

    “In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), Adam Smith defines sympathy as the effect that is produced when we imagine that another person’s circumstances are our own circumstances, and find their reaction to the circumstances to be reasonable.” ( )

    Given Smith’s definition, it seems that Khalil’s philosophizing is weak. He states: “We witness that man acts more often in sympathy with the self (i.e., out of self-interest) because man is obviously more familiar with the circumstance of his own self than with the circumstance of others.” What, according to Smith’s definition, is sympathy with the self? It is the effect produced when we imagine that our circumstances are our own circumstances, and find our reaction to them to be reasonable. Since our circumstances are, indeed, our circumstances, that boils down to finding our reaction to our circumstances to be reasonable. That is not the same as self-interest. In fact, we may find our self-interest to be unreasonable. A Kantian would do so, unless universalizing self-interest would be best, under such circumstances.

  5. The Stephen Miller Band

    Thanks, Ian. That reads MUCH better.

    From the Got Blood? link above.

    Keep in mind, any Dem or Liberal will not engage in the argument I’m engaging in because they are Political Animals and everything is about Politics, not the basic respective issue itself. Politics As Usual will not resolve this issue. It will only make it worse just as the Half Measure that is/was The Affordable Care Act has made things worse in that the Conservative Backlash against the Half Measure will now leave more people unable to afford healthcare. Had Obama and The Dems used their Mandate to push through Single Payer, it would have precluded the possibility of a Conservative reactionary take away. But Single Payer was never on the table just as now repealing The Second Amendment, even though The Dems know I’m right, is not on the table for The Dems. This is why we must abandon The Dems and The Repubs if we want lasting positive effective change.

  6. Peter

    This seems to be part of the projection being offered confusing what is being proposed for improving school security. Rent-a-cops are mere ornaments and the Sheriff’s deputy failed in his sworn duty to protect and he was outside in a safe position.

    Teachers are professionals and some of them should be able to take on this responsibility. It would mean ongoing training and practice possibly in a FBI program. They are not some force coming into the crisis but part of the targets of the shooters just as the children are. Almost every day someone uses a gun to stop, shoot or kill an intruder that threatend them or their family directly.

  7. realitychecker

    Congratulations, Mr. Anderson, you have proven that paid bodyguards do not exist. Somebody tell Eric Prince.

    I have, unarmed, saved two STRANGERS from violent felonies being committed upon them on the streets of Manhattan. In two separate incidents.

    EXCEPT, nobody who has ever actually experienced any violent crime would choose to be helpless while a mass shooter came upon them. Not in a classroom, not anyplace.

    Adam Smith did not know everything, and I do not believe he was addressing violent life or death situations.

    Mr. Anderson, I would like to know if you have ever been a victim of serious violence, because it seems unlikely.

  8. S Brennan

    “After almost every mass shooting [gun abolitionists] have said that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a [gun law]. In [Eric Anderson]’s world, the bad guys will cower in fear of a ubiquitously [worded gun law] citizenry always on the ready to draw their [congressional record] in self-defense. The image is attractive and probably resonates because it’s the story of so many [newscasts] and tv [talk] shows, and hearkens back to our myths of [lawyers/economists taming the] Wild West.”

  9. The Stephen Miller Band

    Congratulations, Mr. Anderson, you have proven that paid bodyguards do not exist. Somebody tell Eric Prince.

    When has Erik Prince ever sacrificed his life to protect anyone? Please list all the examples. Not to mention but I will, Eric Prince gets paid a hell of lot more money than Paul Blart and I know for a fact Paul Blart would never murder innocent civilians.

    Prince’s former company WAS responsible for MURDERING innocent, non-combatant Iraqi Civilians. In protection of who, one wonders? It’s Easy Peasy to pick off The Defenseless, and I’m sure it’s actually quite fun for these Mercenary Thugs. Imagine the High Fives all around. Until they’re found guilty if they’re found guilty. Sometimes they are. Rarely, but sometimes.

    Blackwater Founder Remains Free & Rich While His Former Employees Go Down On Murder Charges

  10. Al

    If the guns don’t get you, the cars will. According to the NHTSA, in 2016, the traffic violence death toll for children age 0-17 was 9,787 individuals. Then you have to multiply that number times 3 for the number of injuries. And many of those injuries are severe brain and spinal cord injuries. This is just one year. And even more than gunz, these facts are something that cannot be spoken of or talked about. But like gun propaganda there is big money to be made in perpetuating the myth of automobile safety and our children.

  11. realitychecker

    @ STMB

    You are not on point re my comment. My point was that the author is saying nobody will ever put his own life on the line for another. Prince has paid guys who will do that. As with soldiers. As with the Secret Service. Even as I have done.

    His attempt to analogize from an economic treatise is totally inapposite. That is enough to defeat his whole post, IMO. Life and death situations are their own category, and deserve to be analyzed as such.

    But his central point logically leads to the conclusion that people will only defend themselves, and there have been zillions of examples of people risking and even losing their own lives for others.

    So I feel this is another take from a committed lefty who probably does not believe in guns OR self-defense generally, and I find that so unrealistic that it is hard not to greet it with sarcasm.

    AND, nobody says the armed teacher has to go hunting in the halls for a shooter. He can lie on the floor against the wall with the door and wait for the shooter to try and come thru the door. At that moment, the shooter will be at a disadvantage no matter what weapon he has, and can be put down at close range. And that is much better than having the shooter enter the room and slaughter everyone in the room, isn’t it?

  12. Dan Lynch

    Eric said: “school shootings have now become commonplace.” Study: Schools are one of the safest places for children and school shootings have declined.
    Eric said: “In not one instance has a good guy with a gun shown up to save the day,” Fact: a good gal with a gun stopped a school shooting
    Nonetheless, I agree with Adam’s main point that few people are crazy enough to run into gunfire solely to earn a paycheck.
    One advantage to allowing teachers to carry a weapon, rather than hiring armed guards, is that a teacher might have a selfish interest in taking out a bad guy who was threatening the teacher’s class.
    Finally, while we are debating the gun issue, we’re not debating the root causes of violence — inequality, corporal punishment, and America’s endless foreign wars.

  13. realitychecker

    @ Al

    Indeed. The author seems to not realize that his own statistics break out to only 3 deaths per year.

    One wonders how many deaths and injuries have resulted from drivers of the same age range texting while driving, an offense for which there is no public outcry demanding a solution.

    It really seems like the deaths are less the issue than the religion of hating guns, doesn’t it?

  14. Eric Anderson

    Dan Lynch:

    Good catch on the SRO in the slopes article. I didn’t find that, and I did try to do a thorough search. Perhaps my unconscious bias toward male gun wielders impacted my search terms. However, given the ratio of incidences where a good “individual” with a gun didn’t step in, it would appear an outlier. Good for her, though. Good for her.

    Also, in response to your first link, “safer” is not safe. And I think most people living in countries where there are common sense gun control laws would agree that school shootings in the U.S. are far too “commonplace.”

  15. realitychecker

    Mr. Anderson, not trying to be rude, but there are a number of Eric A. Andersons that come up in a Google search, and I wonder if you could give some guidance as to which one you might be?

    Because, honestly , this is a very serious topic, and the vast majority of opinions that have been aired seem to come from people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

    It would be very nice to have some basis for understanding what your knowledge, experience, and background re this topic might look like, because I think you must concede that the approach you have taken here is an outlier, to say the least.

    I have noted some specific objections above, and hope you will respond to them. Please note that my initial comment was edited somewhat for seeming to accord you the same degree of respect as you accorded those on the other side of your argument, i.e. the “Wayne’s World” reference, and the clear implication that you think all those who disagree with your POV know only TV and movie heroics to guide their thoughts.

    It makes one wonder what your attitude toward guns, self-defense, and the Second Amendment, generally, might be.

  16. The Stephen Miller Band

    One wonders how many deaths and injuries have resulted from drivers of the same age range texting while driving, an offense for which there is no public outcry demanding a solution.

    This is an irrelevant bait & switch distraction from the topic at hand which is Gun Violence, Gun Control and The Second Amendment.

    Auto accidents resulting from texting while driving are a completely separate issue and therefore have no place in this conversation especially if being used to support one’s argument.

  17. “The right thing to do, is the wrong thing to do.”

  18. If you asked any ruling class, any power elite, any dictator, any oligarchy whether they would prefer to rule over a nation of armed or unarmed peasants, I think we all know the answer. It may take some time but the ruling class usually gets what it wants, sooner or later, because they know what they want and they never give up. They are also very good at divide and conquer.

  19. Willy

    There was the Dalton high school teacher who went nuts in class and started shooting invisible school shooters or something… Maybe my dream of living in a metal detected / patted down / system scanned / brain scanned / database logged before entering every possible public place, world, will yet happen. Is there a sci-fi book about this already?

  20. Eric Anderson

    I arrived at “at least” sixty-five between 1999 and present by counting only shootings with the commonly accepted definition of “mass shooting” which is more than four individuals killed, discounting the death of the shooter. I further limited to mass shootings of “children” defined as high-school aged and below. If there was any question, I discounted it. Therefore, when I say “at least” I don’t think I’m stretching, I’m being extremely conservative in my estimate.

    And yes, I will admit that using an economic approach to analyzing this is an “outlier” among all the usual noise. Original thinking usually is. Since so much of the debate today seems to be revolving “arming” paid individuals (be they SRO’s or Teachers), a neo-classical economic analysis of incentives seemed logical and missing from the debate.

    I claim no expertise in economics further than a layman’s understanding, my point, not to be an expert, but to spur debate among them.

  21. Tom

    This was a case of clear Law Enforcement failures.

    FBI was warned twice about the shooter, failed to investigate.

    The Sheriff’s Department was warned 23 times about the shooter, including from the Shooter’s own family that he was about to blow, and did nothing.

    4 Sheriff’s Deputies were on scene at the shooting we now know, who did not immediately engage per policy. Had they done so, 10 people would still be alive and several others avoiding a Hospital Stay.

    Now that they have been burned by this, school shooting plots are being busted left and right now due to social media posts being investigated and tracked, and tips being judiciously followed up on.

    Also the argument against a Good Guy with a Gun is fallacious. Shootings would be far worse without a Good Guy with a Gun present and engaging, drawing attention from unarmed victims so they can escape.

    Preferably we want to bust school shooters before they shoot and thus hit them with a minor crime that still bars them from owning a gun, but still is light enough that they can be rehabilitated.

    At the school end, bullying must be combated with zero tolerance and teachers must be more pro-active with troublesome students and get them access to help they need.

  22. Eric Anderson

    The following link demonstrates well that the problem is much larger than the narrow limitations I chose to work with:
    Please note the study between 1985 to 2010 cited at the end of the article finding a nearly 1:1 ratio between the prevalence of guns, and murder with a firearm — a correlation robust enough to draw causative inferences.

  23. ponderer

    I think the article is missing the point of having armed resistance to school shootings. It’s not the effectiveness of resistance its the psychological effect on the shooter. If we’ve decided to have/allow a certain proportion of kids desensitized to violence and with no hope for their future lives over “going out in a blaze of [gory] glory” and the most effective way for them to strike back at society and their peers to be shooting up a school.. A last ditch effort to dissuade them by putting the outcome in doubt probably isn’t totally useless. Those who believe guns would help the situation tend to think the shooters are rational actors (like economists) who could be dissuaded if they knew that they would fail. Those against seem to have the impression that there are mass murders everywhere just waiting to get their hands on weapons and that’s ok as long as we keep the weapons away.

    I would say it doesn’t really matter. We lost when we decided that some children were going to be lost, future-less, failures. Yes, you might want to keep assault riffles out of the more unstable undesirables you can’t quickly shift off to the military. Weaponry, more or less, isn’t going to help the societal rot that’s the cause of these episodes. It doesn’t take a genius to see that today’s children are going to be poorer off than their predecessors. That the maligned and bullied probably really have very little to live for or that there is more and more pent up rage in our society.

  24. rangoon78

    Statistics for a falling murder rate are misleading; since Vietnam, medical advances have continually increased the survival rate of gunshot victims.

  25. rangoon78

    America’s third-largest city has built one of the world’s best trauma care systems. But that success might be obscuring the true scale of its gun violence…
    Take that holiday weekend: While 15 people died, 86 were shot—but survived. They lived because the city’s first responders and emergency room staff have adapted to accommodate combat-zone conditions. Chicago boasts one of the oldest and largest urban emergency medicine networks in the world, with six certified Level 1 trauma centers within the city limits. Indeed, criminologist Arthur Lurigio of Loyola University Chicago credits the strength of this network, and recent improvements in trauma care, with the historic drop in the city’s homicide rate since its mid-1990s peak.

  26. Ian Welsh

    Still calibrating comment moderation. Moving towards being more strict.

    The sad bit is good comments, making good points, which don’t go thru because of rudeness. You’re talking to other people here and you may not respect them, but be polite.

  27. S Brennan


    “Two months after the Columbine tragedy in 1999, experts from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service collaborated to study the “school shooter” phenomenon. They published the study on their findings in 2002. The study focused on examining the thinking, planning and other behaviors of students who carried out school attacks. Particular attention was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable – or “knowable” – and could help prevent future attacks.

    The team studied 37 school shootings involving 41 attackers that took place from December 1974 through May 2000. Data included investigative, school, court and mental health records. In addition, 10 school shooters were interviewed to gain their perspectives from “conceptualization to execution” of the attacks. A series of findings emerged. In light of the Florida school shooting massacre and the fact that the alleged shooter drew a lot of attention prior to carrying out the shooting, those findings bear repeating here.

    1. “Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts.” Most attackers progressed through a process that started with an idea, to a plan, to accessing weapons and ending with the attack. If noticed, this process may be interrupted at any time before the attack.

    2. “Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.” The implication is that schools must develop a culture that promotes student sharing of concerns about others. In studying schools that averted a shooting, I and other researchers found that a key factor was establishing trusting relationships with students. We also found that the notion of “snitching” needed to be reframed to being helpful. Unfortunately, it seems that in the case of the Parkland shooting, multiple people did come forward with concerns. The alleged shooter was on several different radars, but unless he was posing an imminent danger to himself or others, he couldn’t be jailed or forced to receive psychological services. It therefore becomes an issue of individual versus collective rights. Unless we are ready as a society to lock people up for disturbing communications, there will be some individuals who will fall through the proverbial cracks.

    3. Along similar lines, most attackers “engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.” Some of these behaviors included talking about bringing a gun to school, or warning friends to avoid a certain area of the school on a given day. The Parkland shooter had a history of violent and aggressive behavior, including Instagram posts about becoming a “professional school shooter.”

    4. While most attackers – 96 percent – were male, the report found that there “is no accurate or useful ‘profile’ of students who engaged in targeted school violence.” Three-quarters of the attackers were white; one-quarter of the attackers came from other racial and ethnic backgrounds, including African-American (12 percent), Hispanic (5 percent), Native Alaskan (2 percent), Native American (2 percent) and Asian (2 percent). Most came from intact families, were doing well in school and were not loners, according to the report.

    5. “Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.” Knowing the students and what they are dealing with in their lives, such as parental divorce, ending of a relationship or other failures is important for getting help in a timely manner. The Parkland shooter’s adoptive mother died of pneumonia just three months prior to his deadly attack. And at age 5, he also witnessed his father die of a heart attack.

    6. “Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack.” Almost two-thirds reported being targeted by others prior to the attack, with some claiming to have withstood severe bullying for a long time. There is evidence that Nikolas Cruz was often mocked for his odd behavior.”

  28. robotpliers

    Total gun deaths in the US are currently around 30,000 /year. Mass shootings are the spectacle, while routine, daily, grinding gun violence is the reality. Arming teachers does nothing to this underlying reality, it is pure spectacle, and quite likely to make it worse. The best option is to take the guns away, or at least the vast majority of them, and heavily restrict the use and functionality of the remaining ones.

    As Al mentions above, automobile deaths are also quite high. Wikipedia tells me they are somewhere north of 30,000 /year in the US, similar to gun deaths. There are other problems with automobiles too, mainly high rates of resource consumption, their outsize occupation of physical space, and the time wasted driving everywhere–and these problems are magnified in the physical infrastructure they require (or, which we have chosen to give them), which spreads our cities out and creates yet more waste. This is a bigger problem than guns, since reducing total miles driven per capita requires the rebuilding of cities, densification, public transit, etc., but it should also be tackled.

    Cars and guns should both be rare and hard to come by.

  29. S Brennan

    “A school custodian, Fabian Llerenas, was first to see the attacker and alert security. School security personnel (Rod Mauler, Christina Kolk, and Cameron Rust) then ran toward the sounds of gunfire to confront the shooter and were joined by deputy James Englert.

    According to CNN, the armed deputy minimized casualties primarily by directing civilians at the scene and racing to confront the shooter. Whether the deputy’s gun factored into the shooter’s decision to take his own life was unclear according to the police report:

    The deputies began clearing the library and found Karl lying on the ground in between two rows of bookshelves. Deputy Englert recognized the person on the ground as Karl Pierson. Karl appeared to be dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Deputy Englert moved the shotgun out of Karl’s reach for safety purposes.

    By some reports, though, the deputy’s presence did hasten the conclusion of the active shooter incident:

    The rampage might have resulted in many more casualties had it not been for the quick response of a deputy sheriff who was working as a school resource officer at the school, Robinson said.

    Once he learned of the threat, he ran — accompanied by an unarmed school security officer and two administrators — from the cafeteria to the library, Robinson said. “It’s a fairly long hallway, but the deputy sheriff got there very quickly.”

    The deputy was yelling for people to get down and identified himself as a county deputy sheriff, Robinson said. “We know for a fact that the shooter knew that the deputy was in the immediate area and, while the deputy was containing the shooter, the shooter took his own life.”

    He praised the deputy’s response as “a critical element to the shooter’s decision” to kill himself, and lauded his response to hearing gunshots. “He went to the thunder,” he said. “He heard the noise of gunshot and, when many would run away from it, he ran toward it to make other people safe.”

  30. sbt42

    It’s interesting to see that article proposing medical prowess in Chicago obscuring its rate of gun violence.

    In Baltimore (the city where I live) the point was made that since guns have become more powerful, ammunition more damaging, and are appearing in greater numbers, that medical science hasn’t been able to save as many people as it has in the past. This, in a city with a world-renowned medical establishment.

    Local Baltimore report from late last year accounting the high murder rate to the lethal effectiveness of available weapons:

    Not sure what to make of seemingly opposite points of view. Though one could make the case that this is a regional phenomenon, it’s hard to balance that against hard-to-ignore proclamations of the prevalence of gun violence.

  31. Eric Anderson

    It seems as though many here are missing the forest for the trees, and I admit as a new contributor that may be the result of not getting my thesis statement right out front.

    But the “forest” is simply this: The gun lobby has had their cake and eaten it too for far too long. No matter how you cut it, microeconomic theory doesn’t support Wayne LaPierre’s assertion. I believe Adam Smith would ask simply, what is the value of your life? That value is what we should be paying teachers or SRO’s if we want to be able to depend on them to run toward the gunfire. If we don’t want to pay them for the value of their life, then we should stop asking them to do it based on altruistic motivations, because those motivations are extremely narrowly bounded.

    So, either (1) Wayne LaPierre doesn’t know the first thing about micro-economics and altruism, or (2) he’s right and all the micro-economic and altruism theories are wrong.

  32. S Brennan

    “No matter how you cut it, microeconomic theory doesn’t support Wayne LaPierre’s assertion.”

    Who the heck cares if a microeconomic theory does/doesn’t support/agree with an assertion. The operative word is “theory”, in science, unlike “economics” theories have to stand on their own. The real world has no obligation to support a “theory”. When data points are at odds with a theory, the theory is either modified, or more often, dumped. Geology had many theories that had to be dumped when plate tectonics became accepted in the mid 60’s…looking back, those theories seem as unscientific as your coveted microeconomic theory…

    “Microeconomic theory typically begins with the study of a single rational and utility maximizing individual…[and] progresses by making the technical assumption that preferences are locally non-satiated. Without the assumption of LNS (local non-satiation) there is no guarantee that a rational individual would maximize utility.” –

    In short, microeconomic theory is a dubious assumption, based on another assumption, based on a circular argument…not exactly on par with the Principia Mathematical; Principles of Natural Philosophy by Isaac Newton…which BTW had to be updated when data started coming that “did not support the theory”.

  33. Hugh

    We all have obligations and commitments to each other. This is what a society means. In a disintegrating society, these obligations and commitments weaken and we can get both a surfeit of guns and shooters. This is where the problem lies. Confronting or not confronting shooters is a false issue. The truth is that if a shooter has an assault rifle about the only thing that can stop him/her is one or more people also with assault rifles. It has nothing to do with cowardice or courage. It has to do with firepower.

  34. realitychecker

    @ Eric

    Very respectfully, wherever did you get the idea that microeconomic theory controls what people do in a life-or-death, adrenaline-fueled moment of existential threat?

    And why do you fail to understand that teachers that are armed can just stay in their rooms, where they will have a better option of defending themselves if the shooter tries to enter and slaughter all the students AS WELL AS your supposedly disinterested teacher?

    They don’t have to be movie heroes rushing out of their rooms to find the danger.

  35. The Stephen Miller Band

    Eric, I understand your thesis. What you say makes sense. Your point is well taken.

    I’d like to expand on it and ask what is the True Value of a gun? Most people do not own guns. Most people don’t want guns. Most people would rather live in a world where there are no guns. That is not idealistic. It’s normal and a normal expectation.

    3% of the population own over 50% of the guns in circulation. The so-called Super Owners. If they truly value their “right to bear arms” then they should be paying for the massive externalized costs associated with having guns in circulation for civilian use.

    Take, for example, the Trauma Care Units in Chicago mentioned above. That’s a huge cost to society. I would imagine the bills per patient can easily run hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes more than that, say, over a million dollars. Many of those who are shooting victims cannot pay those bills. Instead, we do. I don’t want to though and yet no one asked me. I didn’t have a say in the matter. Marion Hammer and the NRA have circumvented the Democratic Process and manipulated & coerced easily cowed politicians to do their bidding. It is not The Will of The People.

    What about policing? Police forces have to be beefed up to deal with this scourge. There’s a price tag for that too.

    Now they want to harden the schools in reaction to the epidemic of Mass Shootings, and yes, it is an epidemic. One Mass Shooting is too much. More than one without repealing the Second Amendment is a purposeful atrocity in progress. Hardening schools costs money. A lot of money. These schools’ budgets are already stretched far too thin. Conservatives consistently criticize public education and endeavor to deprive the institution of sorely needed funds to cover basic necessities like classroom supplies. Teachers do not get paid enough already and now Conservatives want them to wear yet another hat and take on this massive responsibility, which is a ludicrous notion on the face of it, when they’re already overworked and underpaid.

    It’s ridiculously hypocritical considering the recent tax cuts to The Rich and the Austerity Measures to come if Trump and The Repubs have their way. Hell, they’re going to take away Medicare and Social Security and yet they want to devote funds to harden schools instead of taking away the guns? It boggles the mind of any sane person.

    They will never pay to harden schools. It’s a terrible idea on the face of it but I KNOW they will NEVER commit to it because it’s not in the budget. They’re blowing smoke in order to kick the can down the road. They’re confident this will all blow over until the next Mass Shooting in a couple of weeks and then they’ll say the same thing and on and on it will go to 100,000 gun-related deaths a year and beyond.

    If the gun owners had to bear the True Cost of bearing arms, they would quickly relinquish their so-called right. I say so-called because it is not their right. The Second Amendment is no longer relevant despite its highly distorted reinterpretation. When it was relevant it wasn’t so much a right as it was an obligation to be ready to defend the newly-formed Republic at a moment’s notice.

    If we factor in all the externalized costs of the Gun Culture foisted upon us by the NRA and the lackey politicians, guns and bullets simply would not be worth the price.

    The Gangland Murders are a necessary part of the Gun Culture incubated by the NRA. Without all these easily-obtained guns in circulation, the Street Thugs wouldn’t have the weapons to kill each other to the extent they are.

    Also, do the Conservatives not care about the Vaunted Veterans? Approximately 20 Veterans commit suicide per day and many use a gun to off themselves. Guns and suicide, tragically, go together like a horse and carriage. If we want to be honest about not arming vulnerable people, Veterans would NOT BE ARMED considering the rate of suicide and the rate of PTSD. They’re walking Time Bombs.

  36. Eric Anderson

    S Brennan: It matters because it’s the theory the right trots out all the time to prop up the fact that inequality is just the way the world is. It’s hypocrisy. You don’t see Bernie Sanders running on trickle down theory, do you. It’s a dinosaur. But, it’s a dinosaur that the right trots out every time it suits their purpose. Personally, I’m an MMT’er.

    reality checker: nobody has said microeconomic theory does. What I did say was:
    “Getting yourself killed for fifteen-dollars an hour for people you don’t care about as much as you care about yourself isn’t rational behaviour. Investing more money in guards or teachers whose sympathy for themselves is greater than their sympathy for school students is irrational.”

  37. Eric Anderson

    The Stephen Miller Band:
    Thank you for your considered response. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be discussing this more in terms of externalities.

  38. S Brennan

    “The truth is that if a shooter has an assault rifle about the only thing that can stop him/her is one or more people also with assault rifles.”

    Hugh; have you ANY military or police experience? If not, what is your background what makes you an authority on firepower/firearms/fire and maneuver?

    I am putting a google search link here for you, notice how many SWAT entry teams have their lead man armed with a heavy caliber side arm…and FYI, many of those teams are converting from semi-auto to revolvers…why? I’d explain, but..well, you are the expert on these matters.

    So…”if a shooter has an assault rifle about the only thing that can stop him/her is”…[a well placed round] there…fixed.

    And as Realitychecker pointed out, it’s much easier to defend a position than to take out a position..don’t believe me, fine, go ask the NVA that tried to take Khe Sanh.

  39. realitychecker

    @ Eric

    But you keep ignoring that many paid bodyguards do in fact lay their lives on the line for their employers, which would seem to invalidate your entire thesis.

    And the armed teacher issue is a current issue, and I have given a clear example of how that would work well, and you choose to ignore that as well, and that also invalidates your entire thesis.

    And your recent comment about the “forest’ kind of supports my early suspicion that you are anti-gun across the board, which seems to indicate that your microeconomic theory theme is just a device of convenience to try and attack a portion of the rationale behind the Second Amendment and gun ownership generally.

    Aside from that, we are in total agreement lol.

  40. Hugh

    S Brennan, you defeat your own argument. You are talking about a SWAT team, that is multiple heavily armed, heavily armored people, most or all with assault weapons, in other words just what I was saying. And what is this appeal to authority BS? No one but a politician, or campaign consultant, can discuss politics? No one but an economist can discuss economics? Somehow I don’t want only the police or the military telling me what I need to know about what they do. Although what I am saying is more in the realm of commonsense than arcane technical knowledge.

    Eric, I find MMT to be overblown, poorly constructed, poorly thought through cult economics. Most of its assertions are false, incomplete, or uninteresting. Its principal spokespeople have no understanding of theory or theory construction. And despite their claims to heterodoxy, they remain quite close to the neoclassicals in their magical belief in markets and are surprisingly neoliberal in their outlook. A lot of people read into MMT what they want to see in it, but this is very different from what practitioners, like Mosler and Wray, actually are saying. Some time ago here, I went into a point by point take down of MMT. I will not repeat that. In general, what bothered me most about it was how shockingly intellectually sloppy it was and how dogmatic its defenders and practitioners were.

  41. Expat

    All this debating about micro-economics and Adam Smith is all very amusing. The fact is, the US slaughters 30,000 or so of its citizens with guns every year. About two-thirds of those deaths are suicide.

    The US is a dangerous, violent, ignorant, under-educated nation. It always distresses me when Americans point to places like Colombia or Yemen as being worse. Yikes. Is that what makes America great? Being safer than Bogota? Or Aden?

    Americans love their guns and love using them. Guns are designed for one purpose, killing things. And Americans use it for that purpose.

    More guns = more deaths. The math is there, the facts are there.

    So the NRA has to admit that guns are dangerous and deadly and responsible for little children getting their heads blown off in school and then argue that guns are still allowed. Arguing that guns are not dangerous simply makes the NRA look about as smart as Donald Trump….i.e. not very.

    so, keep your guns or lose your guns, but admit what they are and what they are intended to do.

  42. S Brennan

    No Hugh; you posed as an “expert on firearms” I simply asked for you to put your expertise on the table…and from your diversion, I take it you don’t have any expertise/[or even rudimentary experience] to make your claim. Let’s review what you claimed above:

    “The truth is that if a shooter has an assault rifle about the only thing that can stop him/her is one or more people also with assault rifles.” – Hugh

    Hugh; it’s you making a specific claim, which I know to be pure BS. As Realitychecker pointed out and SWAT* teams are slowly discovering, when entering a building/room those armed with a long gun are at a significant disadvantage because at the point of entry, when they are at their most vulnerable, they don’t know where to aim their weapon, length/size is a disadvantage. The defender knows EXACTLY where the entrant is and at say, 5 meters, an easy shot for the most inexperienced. Hugh; your supposition that “Firepower” determines all is fallacious, in truth, it doesn’t mean jack, when compared to putting a round on target.

    And yeah, it’s annoying as hell to listen to somebody opine, as an expert, about something they only know from movies and tv dramas.

    Almost as annoying as listening to economists opine about psychology, you know, a theoretical human, devoid of emotional response. BTW, I have yet to meet a human who even vaguely resembles that described by microeconomics. The closest I’ve come to microeconomic-man are those vacant souls that appear to be low-performing sociopaths. But that’s what you get from a profession that, on a yearly basis, gives itself a fraudulent “Nobel Prize” in an effort to con people into believing their profession isn’t a belief system akin to astrology or alchemy.

    *The forced entry guys at the US Marshals who hunt down MS-13 are almost entirely high caliber pistols.

    Ian – almost didn’t let thru, but by the skin of its teeth.

  43. MojaveWolf

    Hello to everyone with strong and solid opinions on both sides of this debate! I am coming out of lurking (because lack of mental energy to compose decent posts; not because of the new policy; I think the new policy seems to have had a positive effect overall) because . . .


    Or should be. I’m ambivalent/undecided as to the best policy on this issue, even after giving it a fair amount of thought. I have changed my position a couple of times over the years. I am persuadable. Have at it.

    That said, my actual position at this time will make neither side happy. Possibly it will make some people on both sides actually angry. Not intentional. Sorry about that. (new policy has the desired effect of keeping me from adding something *I* think is funny to anyone genuinely angered by me not seeing things exactly like they do; see? it works! preventing escalation before it even starts!)

    Now, here’s where I’m at, starting w/the thoughts on the last comment, from Mr Anderson (does anyone else auto-think Matrix/Neo vs Agent Smith when seeing those words?):

    I think both (1) & (2) are probably correct. Ignoring (1) as irrelevant, I really do think you your efforts at economic calculus regarding “defense of others” ignores the very real sense of moral obligation many of us feel. I think it more or less correlates to #3 in your initial list of past theories you think were wrong (and, really, any attempt at a one size fits all calculus of decision making is going to be flawed, because probably all of these describe some people’s reactions and others might have some viewpoint not really covered by any)(note: this should not be construed as me wanting to arm teachers; I don’t). If I’m a teacher or a coach or a security guard or anyone in a position of responsibility over those kids (or, hell, an employer who hired people to work under me at a place of business) and some nutjob comes in waving a gun, I’m going to feel a moral sense of responsibility to look out for them. That would, hopefully, override the sense of fear I would almost certainly also feel. I might or might not suddenly start thinking about how my death would affect other people not there, including myself. I dunno, never been in that exact spot. Having been in other spots where I was worried, my answer would be: varies from time to time. You really never know exactly how things will go in a crisis until you’re in one. You might be temporarily paralyzed, you might think “must save kids!” and go no further, you might think, “holy f—! gun! hide!” Or you might be totally calm and just start calculating all your options entirely dispassionately, or be totally calm and calculate only “save kids!” or only “save self!” (or start with one of these things and then transition into another) (depending on my mood, I might also feel a strong sense of anger/annoyance at the nutjob and/or sense of frustration with the entire universe which would factor into this, but I’m a very weird person and it really probably would depend on my mood so let’s ignore this except as an example of “reactions not covered by any of the above theories”) Seriously, you just don’t know how any given individual is going to react, but at least for many of us, the way we would WANT to react (and the way at least some people really do react, at least some of the time) is covered by that whole “sense of obligation to look out for others.” Or “sense of obligation to do your job” if your job entails looking out for others. If you actually LIKE your job and the “others”, your sense of obligation would probably much greater than otherwise, but even as someone who has frequently gotten fired for blowing up and chewing out employers in the distant past, even at THOSE jobs I had a strong sense of obligation to do things right, at least up to a certain point. And most teachers probably are going into the field because they (at least initially) like kids and want to help them. (that said, again, I oppose arming teachers. more on that later). For the ultra-cynical out there, if you want, you can reduce this to “innate protective instincts” or even more reductive, “I want to be able to live with myself” balancing out “I want to live” based on how the neurons fire in the split second or seconds you have to make the initial decision, and in the minutes after (sometimes) when you have time to rethink your initial decision.

    And I’m going to break this into two comments, since this is getting long.

  44. MojaveWolf

    Umm, the last comments I see now are not the last comment I saw before, apologies, possibly I thought had scrolled to the bottom and did not.

    Just getting that out of the way before moving on to my own, very persuadable and ambivalent thoughts.

    So, the very muddled place I am presently at:
    I’m big on self defense. I’m also aware that all the training in the world won’t make up for that fact that some people are just going to win most confrontations on sheer physical superiority over other people, and guns are a great equalizer in this area for the physically smaller/weaker, if they know how to use them and are willing to do so and are in the right circumstances to do so (this isn’t always that simple or clear cut). I also think the world might be a better place if no one had ever invented guns and we didn’t have any, based on what has been done with them thus far. And guns give scumbags the chance to be more effective scumbags. Yet, making them all go away at once is not possible. And there are some circumstances where they are useful.

    Getting the 2d amendment issue out of the way: It can be read either way. Really. It can. I tend to read it more in the “authorizes a militia” sense as far as plain language goes, rather than “insists everyone be able to be a one person militia if they see fit”, but seriously, it can be and has been construed as saying all sorts of things. And that’s even before we get into “living document” / “times have changed so the original meaning would no longer apply”/how does this balance with other rights” arguments. So, infuriating people with strong opinions on this everywhere, I’m going to ignore it and just focus on “what policy makes the most sense”.

    Since I’m giving y’all the opportunity to persuade me, let’s start with where you probably can’t persuade me, to save you from wasting time (I realize I alone am not worth much of your time, but figure, I might stand in for a lot of the other persuadable people out there on some of these things):

    No one has a constitutional right to a rocket launcher. The world will not be better off if everyone who wants and can afford one has a rocket launcher. I would like one, I deserve one, I want one, I would use it wisely and only in dire need or extreme anger, and if you can figure out how I can have it legally, if you want to give me one (along w/the rockets and instruction on proper use and care), I’ll take it, cause that would be fun, but I’m willing to give up my desire for a free rocket launcher to make sure random crazies and bad people can’t have one. Some limits are desirable. You will never persuade me either that the second amendment says “you can have whatever weapon you want” or that such a policy is a good idea.

    (also, home nukes–should not be allowed. And please do not send me a free one. Do not want.)

    Open carry in bars? Or at political events? Or sporting events? You will never, ever, ever convince me this is a good idea. It’s not as dumb as allowing people to build nukes in their basement, but don’t even try to convince me it’s got merit. Sorry.

    Things where persuading me might not be impossible, but your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere:

    Arming teachers. Three issues here.

    One is the teacher themselves: Some teachers? Sure. Other teachers? HELL NO. Do I trust anyone to decide correctly which teachers should and shouldn’t be armed? Hell no. (most likely, it would be guns to whoever wanted, if we went this way).

    The second is the students. Do you feel confident kids would never figure out how to get their hands on the teachers guns? Do you feel confident teachers wouldn’t be having to constantly be on alert for this? Not working for me.

    The third is more just a theory of the universe. If we are at the point where this is the best option, we are screwed. Which we may be, but I don’t think we’re that screwed in this particular way just yet. I hope not. (And suddenly I’m reminded of the friend who said to me last year, “Do you realize we’re living in one of those dystopias where the bad guys won?” & also someone else who said to me, “if there ARE benevolent aliens watching us, they will probably decide the best thing they can do for the rest of the world is release a virus engineered to kill humans and only humans ASAP”)

    Actual real assault rifle availability: Right now, this is illegal. I’d make it harder to get the conversion kits too. Yes, they would be SUPER handy in some circumstances, including for some actual realistically possible home defense circumstances, but the pull trigger, watch bullets fly sort of thing really not necessary, and makes it way too easy for those looking to kill a.m.a.p. asap to be more effective. So no.

    On the other side: Maybe society would be better with no guns at all. But there’s a lot out there. So outlawing all guns just seems like a nonstarter. The old NRA slogan on this actually makes sense (along w/the corollary, you’d be making outlaws out of a lot of honest people). Also, they are useful for home defense, especially in rural areas. (and some people actually hunt for food; I’m a vegetarian who likes non-human animals better than the human sort for the most part, and would happily hunt trophy hunters were that legal, but I’m fine w/people hunting for food) So eliminating all legal gun ownership? No.

    Covering some possible objections to this:

    That guns are more dangerous to have for home defense than no guns because the owner is more likely to get shot: This is because of suicide. That should be a separate stat. If I wanna kill myself I can do it and screw you. It’s none of your business if I want to kill myself. If you insist on making it your business, keep in mind that guns might make it easier/quicker but are hardly necessary.

    Continuing the home defense route: Some of us, like moi, live in the middle of nowhere where any confrontation with intruders probably would be over long before any cops arrived, even if we called the second we were sure it was needed (no certainty that would even be a possibility)(you can’t just call whenever you see someone drive by on the road or turn in the wrong driveway). Some people are even further away, over an hour.

    & on top of that, almost no crime of that sort out here, whereas the closest town has a rising crime rate. This is probably at least in part because a significant part of the dwellers have weapons and are willing to use them. Most criminals probably don’t want to be trying to figure out who is who on the “armed and dangers occupant” front.

    Lastly on home defense front, again, on stopping confrontations before they start–strange person shows up in yard. Resident comes out, with, say a Mossberg 500 in their hand. “Peace through superior fire power” has some validity. Sane bad people leave, making excuses as to why they were at wrong place. Less sane bad people? Well, if someone is going to go all wham bam shang a lang on someone else, better you on them than visa versa.

    And I kept getting interrupted and have forgotten my train of thought. Hope that covers it, such as it is. These parameters leave a lot of room for “what the hell policy works best?” Doubt it will be solved here.

  45. Willy

    Re: self-defense.
    I’m a lot quicker at whipping out a 9m than I am an AR-15. And sometimes in the heat of a tense situation I’ll shoot myself in the foot, just trying to get the danged thing out of my pants. Not to mentions always having to try and explain what that long thing is. My fellow revolutionary militiapersons are always trying to persuade me that AR-15s are better at shooting down those big gubmint-controlled missile drones. When I tell them they can operate above 10000 feet they just yell at me to practice shooting some more.

    It may be every God-fearing Christian’s dream to have some monster break into their very own “wrong gol-danged rec-room”. But the stats claim that far more of them will shoot themselves, or each other, than they will any monster.

    I think of Meleanie Hain, of gun-wearing-during-kids-soccer-practice fame. Truth is, with her gun-nut husband, their publicly displayed guns made these unattractive nobodies, somebody. Now they had powerful fashion accessories! Sadly, their shooting lessons didn’t include how to keep from killing each other right in front of their own children.

    The NRA is my favorite poster boy for how corporate lobbies should be run. Give money to the right politicians, then bind all your resulting profits directly to something found in the constitution, because, everybody knows the Founders were infallible.

    I’m rambling again. Sorry. Carry on.

  46. Hugh

    S Brennan, I am not posing as anything. I am saying it’s nuts to bring a knife to a gunfight, and that you can’t compare a trained team with lots of firepower and protection to a lone resource officer probably with a pistol, a few rounds, no vest, and little training. I am amused the deference I owe my “betters”, such as those generals who ran some of our most glorious wars, like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course the GWOT. Or the economists who did not see the housing bubble or the meltdown until after the fact. As for the police, I guess now I will have to overlook them shooting unarmed people or ones running away from them because they know more and better than I.

  47. S Brennan


    I think thou doth protest too much…did it ever occur to you to stop digging? . Why not just own up to the fact that you haven’t any background in weapons; or for that matter, fire and maneuver?

    I’d do a point by point, but it’s kinda a waste of breath, BTW, thanks for comparing me to;

    “generals who ran Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan [&] economists who did not see the housing bubble or…police, shooting unarmed people running away ”

    I never thought of myself as quite that important…apparently, I need to let my bridled ego run free..huh?

  48. Eric Anderson

    Mojave Wolf:
    You should write that up for a local newspaper editorial. I think you covered and effectively analyzed virtually every talking point I’ve heard come from both sides of the debate. I don’t think we’d be where we are today if everyone looked in the mirror and honestly held this debate with themselves.

    Rambling shmambling. I think you’re dead on in regard to the lobbying. Closer to my neck of the woods a 3yr old recently shot and killed his Mom in a store when he pulled her handgun from her purse.

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