The Second Amendment vs. the Seventh Amendment: Accountability and Understanding of Gun Owners and Civil Jurors
In yesterday’s post, I laid out two fundamental differences between the Second and Seventh Amendments that I discuss in a piece in the Northwestern Law Review. In this post, I address the first difference: I compare the individual responsibility and understanding of responsibilities of gun owners and civil jurors.
Successful public policy depends on paying close attention to the accountability principle. Who is accountable, and how is that accountability enforced? Incentives matter. Gun owners and users have considerable incentives to behave responsibly; civil jurors have very few.
Incentives and knowledge of gun owners and users
Gun owners and users have direct, individual responsibility for their actions. They have an incentive to be careful because of concern for the safety of their families and friends. And if they do something foolish or malicious with a gun, they are individually liable—not just liable under civil law but also criminal law. They may be sued or prosecuted for what they do. Such individual liability has a way of focusing the mind.
This individual responsibility seems to influence behavior. Proponents of gun-carry bans predicted mayhem in the streets after Florida passed a permissive concealed-carry law in 1987. But these dire predictions have not come to pass. Permissive concealed-carry laws appear to have had no adverse effect on public safety. In 1995, the New York Times admitted that “Florida’s experience has generally provided strong arguments for proponents of the right-to-carry bills …. Even those who opposed the measure said it had not led to the increase in violence they had feared…. [H]andgun-related homicides in Florida dropped by 29 percent from 1987 to 1992 ….” (Sam Howe Verhovek, States Seek to Let Citizens Carry Concealed Weapons, N.Y. Times, Mar. 6, 1995, at A1, A14.)
The most solid data available on crime rates for legal gun owners in the United States concern holders of concealed-carry licenses. States generally keep track of how many licenses are issued, and the crimes that holders of these licenses commit. John Lott has made calculations using such data; I have followed his general method, but have used different data. There may well be differences between the crime profiles of carry license holders and those of other legal gun owners. But for now, the best data we have concerns carry permit holders.
The data show that concealed-carry permit holders are remarkab
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