Go to Digby’s blog for a point-by-point commentary on President Bush’s latest talk with the press. It’s pretty depressing.
Meanwhile, though the Oxbloggers prepare for the task of building stable democratic regimes throughout the Middle East, Eugene Volokh digs in against the prospect of civil war and the breakdown of law and order at home. I can’t bring myself to think that the conjuring up the prospect of regional or national anarchy at some point in the next 50 years is a sensible rationale for assessing gun-control policy choices today. Or any policy. No reason to stop at gun control, after all—if there’s a nontrivial chance of civil war, should we really be so worried about, say, the social security fund? The rhetoric of “But this is war, dammit!” slips into the subjunctive mood, so we get “But there might be a war, dammit!”
Matthew Yglesias argues, in passing, that “in case law and order really did suffer a temporary breakdown, having a well-armed populace would make that scenario more rather than less dangerous even if you personally would be better off with a weapon.” Eugene responds that
there are 200 million dumb guns in the country. They’re not going away… If an electromagnetic pulse destroys my smart gun (because I was so smart and cautious that I traded in my dumb gun for the smart gun), the result won’t be unarmed me vs. unarmed attackers. It’ll be unarmed me vs. armed attackers.
I think this is right, but it also raises a broader question. Restoring social order after a huge civil war or regional disaster would be harder, I think, the more guns there were floating around. In some respects the situtation would resemble that of regions of Africa caught in endless civil wars propelled by the easy availability of weapons and the ambitions of local strongmen. Off the top of my head, there are very few cases in the 20th century where civil wars were followed by a successful military standown and the implementation of a stable democratic regime (i.e., one where the government eventually lost an election and peacefully transferred power). I think, though I’m open to correction on this, that Ireland and Costa Rica might be two of a very few examples.
While we’re speculating about all of this, let me say that I think the U.S. would stand a pretty good chance of recovering from the kind of chaos Eugene worries about. But we wouldn’t have guns to thank for the restoration of stable civil government. Instead, we’d be thanking the availability of shared cultural templates for organizing a political and legal system, together with the presence of people able to transmit the detailed knowledge required to make those templates work as real, staffed institutions. People like Eugene Volokh, in other words.