Gun Control as a Positional Good?

Several months back, I came across an article from the Institute of Economic Aaffairs titled, “The economics of political correctness”. In the piece, author Kristian Niemietz argues that rabid PC brigadiers, those who loudly condemn alternative viewpoints and who seem to constantly search for new words and phrases to deem offensive, might actually be projecting their own feelings of moral superiority rather than protecting vulnerable groups from nasty prejudice. A central point of Niemietz’s argument is that because there is an inverse relationship between the accessibility of the good and the utility consumers derive from the good, we frequently see political correctness morph to apply to new groups, words, and phrases. While this “hipster” sort of consumption-driven approach may not perfectly apply to the gun control crowd, some social parallels exist between the ever pervasive cloud of political correctness and gun control advocates.

To see the elitist, morally superior side of the gun control movement, we need to look no further than billionaire junior-despot, Michael Bloomberg. Just last week, Bloomberg offended residents of the two Colorado communities where successful grassroot efforts recently recalled two anti-gun state legislators. In his put-down, Bloomberg went so far as to question whether those communities even had roads. Such comments came only weeks after Bloomberg asserted that when his time comes he will pass straight into heaven, in large part because he has been the central bank of gun control groups nation-wide. While it would be pointless to argue whether or not Bloomberg and other wealthy (or ambitious) gun control advocates actually care about gun rights beyond their status as an issue on the political battlefield, there is no denying that these individuals have sought to establish their moral superiority through support for gun control.

For readers who are not convinced, let’s consider another example. Earlier this year, a post-Newtown email exchange between a few different gun control groups revealed they were preparing to launch a media campaign calling for gun control. To sell their pitch, these gun prohibitionists sought help from various celebrities who would be willing to star in television and social media advertising campaigns. The entire basis for the effort was most certainly to convince younger audiences, through a sort of peer pressure, that gun control was cool. Instead of attempting to sell gun control as a good with intrinsic value (of which it frankly is devoid), gun controllers sank to the lowest level possible with Gun Control: Because it’s Cool.

In a similar vein to the “cool campaign”, proponents of gun control have also tried to sell it from a “we’re more civilized than you” angle. We have all heard the argument by now. It is either that no other “civilized” nation has these problems or that “no nation as civilized as ours needs these weapons”. While discounting nations with relatively high rates of gun ownership and low levels of crime, such as Switerland, these people also fail to address the other ways that the United States differs from the rest of the world. Furthermore, they fail to account for the seemingly endless warfare, terrorism, and crime that exist within modern society which suggest we may be arrogant to consider ourselves more civilized than our forefathers. Still, the argument most certainly implies that it is the responsibility of a “civilized” person to support gun control while those who do not are most certainly savages. For anti-gunners, it is their cultured faith in gun control (among other beliefs) that sets them apart from backroads, rural ignorance. This stereotype is only further solidified by the endless sea of political cartoons which box gun owners in as fat, uncouth rednecks. Thus, once again these crusaders of the new prohibitionist movement can assume the moral high ground while categorically demeaning any who disagree with their cause.

While comparing Niemietz’s assertion with the gun control movement does not result in a perfect match, similar themes exist between the two groups. One notable difference is that the Niemietz argument centers on the zero-sum consumption definition of positional goods, while the gun control movement aligns more closely with the zero-sum utility approach. This is manifest by the self-satisfaction and arrogance gun prohibitionists seem to display when discussing or selling the issue and because their superiority complex appears unaffected by the number of subscribers to their cause.  Any time one group has been told that they are superior because they hold a certain belief (regardless of its intrinsic value) we should not be surprised when these same individuals fail to bring substantive arguments to the debate arena. Such is the case in our present debate and I would not expect it to change any time soon.

IEA Niemietz article:




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