A Rifle in Every Pot
By GLENN REYNOLDS
Published: January 16, 2007
IT’S a phenomenon that gives the term “gun control” a whole new meaning:
community ordinances that encourage citizens to own guns.
Last month, Greenleaf, Idaho, adopted Ordinance 208, calling for its
citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of
emergency. It’s not a response to high crime rates. As The Associated Press
reported, “Greenleaf doesn’t really have crime ... the most violent offense
reported in the past two years was a fist fight.” Rather, it’s a statement
about preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a
culture of self-reliance.
And it may not be a bad idea. While pro-gun laws like the one in Greenleaf
are mostly symbolic, to the extent that they actually make a difference, it
is likely to be a positive one.
Greenleaf is following in the footsteps of Kennesaw, Ga., which in 1982
passed a mandatory gun ownership law in response to a handgun ban passed in
Morton Grove, Ill. Kennesaw’s crime dropped sharply, while Morton Grove’s
To some degree, this is rational. Criminals, unsurprisingly, would rather
break into a house where they aren’t at risk of being shot. As David Kopel
noted in a 2001 article in The Arizona Law Review, burglars report that they
try to avoid homes where armed residents are likely to be present. We see
this phenomenon internationally, too, with the United States having a lower
proportion of “hot” burglaries — break-ins where the burglars know the home
to be occupied — than countries with restrictive gun laws.
Likewise, in the event of disasters that leave law enforcement overwhelmed,
armed citizens can play an important role in stanching crime. Armed
neighborhood watches deterred looting in parts of Houston and New Orleans in
the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Precisely because an armed populace can serve as an effective backup for law
enforcement, the ownership of firearms was widely mandated during Colonial
times, and the second Congress passed a statute in 1792 requiring adult male
citizens to own guns.
The twin purposes of self and community defense may very well lie behind the
Second Amendment’s language encompassing both the importance of a
well-regulated militia and the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. As
the constitutional and criminal law scholar Don Kates has noted in the
journal Constitutional Commentary, thinkers at the time when the
Constitution was written drew no real distinction between resisting
burglars, foreign invaders or domestic tyrants: All were wrongdoers that
good citizens had the right, and the duty, to oppose with force.
Greenleaf’s ordinance is consistent with this approach. But it may also
serve another purpose.
Experts don’t think the Kennesaw ordinance, which has never actually been
enforced, did much to change gun ownership rates among Kennesaw residents.
And, given that Greenleaf’s mayor has estimated that 80 percent of the
town’s residents already own guns, the new ordinance can’t make all that
much of a difference. But criminals are likely to suspect that towns with
laws like these on the books will be unsympathetic to malefactors in
general, and to conclude that they will do better elsewhere.
To the extent that’s true, we’re likely to see other communities adopting
similar laws so that criminals won’t see them as attractive alternatives.
The result may be a different kind of “gun control.”
Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, is the
author of the blog Instapundit and of “An Army of Davids: How Markets and
Technology are Empowering Ordinary People to Take on Big Government, Big
Media and Other Goliaths.”