Why You Don’t Need a Gun

You don’t need a gun for the same reason you don’t need to get a flu or measles  vaccine: Herd immunity. As a public health phenomenon, herd immunity describes a condition where, if enough people are immune to a communicable disease, say through vaccination, the un-vaccinated members of the community, or herd, are protected to a great extent also.

Herd immunity works because communicable diseases are only spread when infected individuals are near susceptible individuals. If enough members of a community are immune to a disease, it becomes difficult, almost impossible, for infected individuals to pass the disease on to susceptible individuals.  The percentage of the population it is necessary to vaccinate for there to be significant herd immunity varies by the disease and how it is transmitted, air, blood, saliva etc. But, generally speaking, the number is usually between 80 and 90% of the population.

Similarly, if enough people own guns and are capable of self-defense, crime decreases. So even those that do not own guns are conferred a form of immunity to violent crime by the credible potential of armed resistance. This form of herd immunity works differently than the form studied by disease immunologists.

Herd immunity to violent crime is due to an economic calculation by potential criminals. Those criminals look for soft targets. If a large number of homeowners are armed, the criminal does not dare enter an inhabited dwelling. The downside risk is too high. He plays the percentages. Instead, the criminal will do smash and grabs or confine himself to burglary (of uninhabited dwellings) rather than robbery (of individuals or occupied dwellings).

The statistics available in various jurisdictions, foreign and domestic, with different gun laws support this. Where guns are banned altogether robbery increases. Where guns in homes are legal, robbery goes down. Even madmen are sane enough to attack gun free zones where their victims will be helpless and avoid places such as police stations, gun shows and so forth.

The great beauty of the herd immunity to crime is that you don’t even need a lot of guns in the hands of the law-abiding. You only need to create the impression that the citizenry is armed. This phenomenon was observed many years ago when a TV news show in Florida broadcast a story that local police were training women to be proficient in firearms. We don’t know how many women in that community actually owned a firearm but violent crimes against women, assault, rape, robbery, dropped to nearly zero while remaining the same in surrounding areas.

Herd immunity from crime goes into effect when citizens are allowed to be armed. But it also works when there is a greater police presence. I have not seen the statistics but our local police chief has explained that in our part of the state, those localities with their own police forces have a much lower rate of break-ins than those communities that rely on the state police, as excellent as they are, because there isn’t the same level of coverage. Again, the criminals are playing the percentages in an attempt to reduce downside risk.

You, or an economist, might consider the un-vaccinated people or the unarmed citizens to be free-riders, getting a benefit without paying the same price others do. I don’t look at it that way. Instead, herd immunity gives us choices that might not be otherwise open to us. First of all, herd immunity is not a guarantee. So if you are un-vaccinated you can still get sick and if you are unarmed you can still be attacked.

What is important to me is that herd immunity protects those that, for whatever reason, cannot participate in the vaccination program. They may be allergic to the vaccine or their immune system cannot respond to it. Regarding guns, the person may, reasonably, feel safer without weapons around or with different weapons. Herd immunity provides these choices.

I would ask those that choose to avoid vaccinations or guns to at least respect that other may make a different decision. After all, the abstainer, usually without being aware of it, benefits from the choices others have made to protect themselves thanks to herd immunity.


2 Responses to “Why You Don’t Need a Gun”

  1. LibertarianMoney Says:

    I’ve never heard of that explained using herd immunity.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. scottinnj (@scottinnj) Says:

    I agree. We have, from what I’ve been told, over 300 million firearms of various models & calibers in the country. I would like to be one of them; in fact, I used to be a gun owner. However, having a four year old living in the home which is located in a community that is virtually crime free I feel that having one in the home poses more risks than reward.
    Having said that, I still actively support the 2nd Amendment with a membership in the NRA & my right to freely express my opinions.
    Thank you for this blog post, it’s good to know others think as I do.

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