Life and Liberty

Doug Tice – who’s taken and run with “The Big Question” after Eric Black’s departure – noted something from Saturday’s NARN broadcast:

Yesterday, on one of the Saturday afternoon “Northern Alliance Radio Network” talk shows on AM 1280 The Patriot, I heard two of the the allies — I believe, Mitch Berg (from and Captain Ed (from — discussing last week’s awful Nebraska mall shooting. Their take on it was intriguing.

Doug noted that, first, I…

…insisted that nearly all mass shootings in recent years have occured in “gun-free” zones.

Not surprisingly, evidence for these assertions has been compiled and disseminated by scholar John Lott, the famed advocate of the “more guns-less crime” theory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or an economist – to note that the vast preponderance of spree killings – certainly all of the ones the media brings up – take place in “gun free zones”, in academic sources like Lott, as well as, er less-academic ones:

Schools. College campuses. Government buildings. The list goes on, and on, and on. And if there are exceptions to the rule, they are often as not found in “gun-free” states.

We can certainly argue the premise. The numbers are on my side, but there is most certainly an argument to be had.

But Tice goes on to the more interesting question:

But anyhow, the allies didn’t stop there. Apparently following the lead of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, they argued that victims or victims’ families in this situation may have grounds for a lawsuit against the mall based on the gun ban.

No doubt there will, as usual, be lawsuits, alleging various reasons for holding the mall liable for the tragedy. But the new theory (new to me, anyhow) is this: By deliberately banning otherwise permitted guns from their property, the mall managers exposed their customers to greater danger from criminal violence, since the ban ensured that no one would have the means to return fire.

Not “legally”, anyway. Fact is, if Nebraska’s law is anything like Minnesota’s, then carrying illegally in the store would have been a legal infraction, punishable by a fairly trivial fine. I’m not sure if there’d be any additional penalty to a carry permit holder actually using a permitted gun in a posted space in legal self-defense, or if a jury would ever convict them of it if they had done so. I don’t know that there’s ever been a case on the subject.

But I digress. The fact remains that the Westroads Mall had declared itself a no-gun zone – for those who follow the niceties of the law, anyway. And I, like most carry-permit holders, would have honored that request – by keeping my gun, out of there. Also myself; I don’t go where I’m not wanted, as a rule, and I don’t spend my money there, either.

Tice cuts to the, er, Big Question:

Interesting, but also puzzling.

Granting, for the sake of argument, the Lottian view that gun-free status makes a place of business more dangerous for its patrons, this lawsuit theory seems a surprising position for conservatives to take, since they presumably are defenders of private property rights.

True. (And to be perfectly accurate, I’m not entirely sure Ed shares my views on this issue; guns are pretty much my turf, among the NARN crew).

Doesn’t a property owner have a right to ban guns from his property, even if it is unwise to do so? And aren’t those who believe such a ban puts them at risk free not to enter his property?

Yes, and yes. It’s a freedom I generally exercise, too. As noted above, I rarely if ever patronize posted businesses, if there is a reasonable alternative.

Aren’t customers assuming any risk, and waiving any right to recompense, when they knowingly and voluntarily enter a gun-free zone?

I’m not aware that there is any law or precedent about this. Has there ever been a case with a:

  1. legal activity, whose practicioners are…
  2. …permitted by the state to carry out the activity with…
  3. …an object that is legal – a firearm – for the express purpose of…
  4. …defending themselves and bystanders from…
  5. …an illegal activity that also happens to be a lethal threat?

…being enjoined for matters of a shopkeeper’s pure personal preference (as opposed to an empirical hazard – which, let us not forget, doesn’t exist with concealed carry permit holders)?

I’m trying to think of any situation that’d be even analogous. Barring defibrilators from your store (they can be misused!)? Banning asthma inhalers (they can be abused)?

Here’s the, er, Big Counterquestion: Does your property right trump my right to self-preservation?

The situation seems roughly comparable to the debate over bar and restaurant smoking bans. Conservatives as a rule argue that smoking bans are improper because a property owner should be able to decide whether to allow smoking or not. People who fear secondhand smoke need not work there or take their leisure there — or so the conservative line usually goes.

By and large conservatives can be expected to respond with disdain to the idea of lawsuits based on harm from voluntary exposure to secondhand smoke.

True. But the two ideas aren’t really similar. If I’m in a bar, smell smoke, and decide I don’t like it, I (and my friends and family) can make an orderly exit with a reasonable chance of getting out alive.

If I’m in that same bar, and a spree killer stands in the doorway and starts blazing away, the decision loop is a lot tighter; neither I nor the bar owner can be reasonably assumed to have chosen this activity; it’s being inflicted on all of us against our will. The threat to my life, liberty and happiness isn’t at some hypothetical intersection of property rights and science. It is in the hands of a madman with a gun. A madman that the store owner has forbidden me to defend myself against, without (obviously, and indeed impossibly) safeguarding me and mine from him.
He’s put my right to live snugly behind his property rights.  Just as the owners of the Westroads Mall did.

And let’s not forget that while the science of secondhand smoke is very much up in the air, the science of hot lead is not.

Here are three questions — assuming, for this purpose, that both secondhand smoke and gun bans are hazardous to people voluntarily exposed to them.

Question 1: Is it possible, coherantly, to believe secondhand smoke lawsuits are ridiculous but gun-ban lawsuits make sense?

Question 2: Is coherance possible the other way around — secondhand smoke lawsuits are sensible but not gun-ban lawsuits?

Going to a bar and smoking are both voluntary activities. One may leave a bar and find a smoke-free place at ones’ leisure. One may not leave this life, metaphysics aside, to go to a different one if someone gives you secondhand lead. Being enjoined by a property owner from taking legal steps with a legal gun that one is legally permitted to carry to safeguard the life that you and yours have is a whole different level of importance.

And when you’re talking about government offices and public buildings, I think it’s even more clear-cut. The right to protect ones’ life, and ones family’s lives, exists on at least as high a moral plane as private property (and at least a plane higher than smoking).

Question 3: Again assuming the Lottian view correct, are gun bans by private businesses a market failure caused, as market failures often are, by inadequate information — in this case people’s failure to understand what really makes them unsafe? Is the mall owner’s self interest in attracting shoppers better served by what Lottians would consider the illusory safety of the advertised gun ban than by the actual safety of allowing guns?

When statistically tiny numbers of Americans were poisoned by tampered Tylenol, or sickened by tainted spinach, sales of both dropped through the floor, creating marketing nightmares for both industries.

Against that – in just two incidents in “gun-free zones” in the past year, over forty people have died. In Minnesota, ten people have died in two school shooting incidents in the past few years – all of them on “gun-free” property. I’m not sure where that places the relative odds of dying of tainted beef to being shot by a madman at a posted business or federally “gun-free” school, but I’m guessing it’s pretty daunting.

I think the market has at least partially answered Doug’s question; the vast majority of the stores that “posted” themselves in the wake of the Minnesota Personal Protection Act have quietly dropped the signs in recent years; perhaps some were swayed by the protests of people like me, who made our displeasure at the unwarranted bigotry known. The vast majority, I suspect, simply realized that the law-abiding gun owner was less a threat than the average customer, and that Wes Skoglund was a lying moron.

If it takes a lawsuit to convince the rest that my right to protect my life is on a par with their property right – or at least that trying to trump my right to survive with their property rights is an act with consequences – I think I’m willing to go with that.

Am I missing something?

UPDATE:  Of course I’m missing something!  Or at least in Minnesota, according to the panoply of lawyers in the comment section below. 

So the legal route is, at least under Minnesota law, a non-starter (I don’t know about Nebraska law), and as commenter Jay Reding points out, the market does seem to be taking care of things in Minnesota. 

And commenter JoelR notes that, since carrying ones’ legally-permitted handgun in a posted store is an infraction that might be punishable by a $25 fine in Minnesota, it’s pretty much worth committing “civil disobedience” anyway, as long as one acts legally (to say nothing of tactfully and respectfully – keeping the gun carefully concealed and not making an ass of oneself.  Which is always a good idea).

But let me emphasize; while the law would seem to hold that the stores are legally blameless for anyone getting murdered because nobody can legally carry a firearm to defend themselves, it still doesn’t make it right.  Hence, I’ll continue to avoid posted stores; less out of fear of mass-murder than out of protest against bigotry against the demonstrably law-abiding.

Like me.

58 thoughts on “Life and Liberty

  1. A local mall here in a Dallas suburb is posted, except for the JC Penny store. There are proper “no carry” signs at the door going from Penny’s to the mall and every other door to the outside except Penny’s. It is the only store I shop at in that mall.

    This mall, Grapevine Mills, is the only mall I have seen posted around here. In Texas for a no-guns sign to count it has to meet specific size and wording. Otherwise it does not apply to CHL holders. Very few places that have no-gun signs meet the specifications so I just ignore them (legally). Grapvine Mills stores have lost thousands of my dollars that I would have spent there over the years. I would rather be safe.

    I do agree property owners have the right to ban guns if they like. They should be responsible for the consequences however. Not sure if a lawsuit is a good thing, but they deserve all the bad publicity they can get. We need to keep pouring it on.

  2. When AC is mugged, at gunpoint, in his awesome safe city, I’m sure we’ll continue to hear about his lack of desire to own a gun. Didn’t someone say “a conservative is a former liberal who was mugged?”

  3. Angryclown ignores nothing.

    Except, of course, as Joel pointed out, the point.

    Gun control is not a big issue for Angryclown, who lives in the safest big city in the U.S. and has no desire to own a gun.

    And nobody’s going to force you to!

    But to ignore the fact that the carry permit is *hardly* a rural franchise means you’re either chain-yanking (most likely) or really just don’t get it (quite possible).

    Angryclown simply enjoys pointing out the stupidities you resort to in making your arguments. Comparing Vermont – a rural state who’s biggest “city” would fit in Yankee Stadium with room to spare – with California, for example.

    But then we went and compared Philly, Miami, Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland, Atlanta, Seattle, the Twin Cities and so on – all of whose carry programs are *invariably* successful.

    But OK, it’s not “ignoring”. What word do you prefer?

  4. When AC is mugged, at gunpoint, in his awesome safe city, I’m sure we’ll continue to hear about his lack of desire to own a gun. Didn’t someone say “a conservative is a former liberal who was mugged?”

    Yeah, but . . . forgetting about the humor for a moment, a couple of points: we wouldn’t have gotten carry reform in Minnesota without liberals. While conservative Republicans carried most of the weight in the lege, the law wouldn’t have passed — either time — without the votes of several liberal DFL Senators.

    Beyond that, I know of antigun liberals who have been mugged — or worse — and not only haven’t gotten the whole thing around self-defense, but have had some serious anger displacement issues, and have gotten crazier on the gun issues; the sorts of folks who make ac look almost rational by comparison. Remind me, some time; these sorts of stories go better with beer.

  5. But OK, it’s not “ignoring”. What word do you prefer?

    It’s his bozone layer; it prevents rational thoughts from penetrating the clown’s mind.

  6. Angryclown was mugged, Cathcart, by two guys about 15 years ago. No guns. Angryclown followed the muggers, called 911 from a pay phone, then chased ’em into the arms of the cops. One of ’em took a plea. The other was convicted on Angryclown’s testimony.

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