by Brian Czech
Herald readers were reminded last week of a concept called the “Kuznets curve,” named after the late Simon Kuznets (1901-1985) for his analysis of the distribution of wealth. Kuznets (rhymes with “whose nets”) found, more or less, that the maldistribution of wealth had worsened in the decades preceding the 1920s, and lessened afterward. He famously linked both trends to economic growth, noting different effects of growth before and after the 20s.
I say Kuznets found these things “more or less” because he plastered his 1955 paper with disclaimers. To wit, “trends in the income distribution should be explored—even though we have neither the necessary data nor a reasonably complete theoretical model” and “trends in the income structure can be discerned but dimly.” Kuznets warned that his results should be “considered as preliminary informed guesses” and came “perilously close to pure guesswork.”
Nevertheless, growthists glommed on to the guesswork like glazed raisin bread, and it was only a matter of time before someone coined the everlasting “Kuznets curve.” Could it have been the same salesman who came up with the cockamamy “consumer confidence?” Or the same PR pro who gave us the paean, “a rising tide lifts all boats?”
Whoever it was, somewhat of a growth industry (so to speak) in copycat Kuznets curves developed thereafter. The one that drives conservationists nuts—“Kuznuts” we might say—is the so-called “environmental Kuznets curve” (EKC). This is the hypothesis that economic growth initially causes environmental problems, which are eventually solved after the average income grows beyond a threshold level. The EKC turned out to be a fish story, resting on “a very flimsy statistical foundation.”
Fallacious is bad enough, but a truly nefarious Kuznets curve lurks in the town halls of the USA. It has to vie for the title of deadliest mind game on Earth. It’s the gun-violence Kuznets curve touted implicitly by the National Rifle Association.
The NRA and the Gun-Violence Kuznets Curve
Even when a Kuznets curve isn’t mentioned by name, Kuznets-curve logic may still be afoot. GDP doesn’t necessarily have to be the driving variable, either. The generic Kuznets curve can be stated like this: “When X increases, it causes Y to increase, but after a certain point, with different factors in play, X causes Y to decrease instead.” In the process, either a problem will be solved by that ever-growing X (a pleasant Kuznets curve), or a problem will appear and worsen (a nasty Kuznets curve). For example, as age increases, so does strength, but only up to a certain age. Thereafter, strength decreases with aging. That’s a nasty Kuznets curve.
Invariably, though, Kuznets curves proposed in the literature are pleasant ones, often intended to argue for the growth or proliferation of X.
Which brings us to the NRA and its gun-violence Kuznets curve. We’ve all heard it: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” “We need more firearms on campus.” “Gun bans don’t disarm criminals, gun bans attract them.” Unlike the prudent and analytical Kuznets, the quotees (Wayne La Pierre, Donald Trump, and the late Walter Mondale, respectively) abide no doubt or compromise.
In the NRA’s Kuznetsian logic, yes, guns do allow for gun violence problems. However, the NRA’s solution is to simply have more guns in the hands of more people. Just like evermore money seeping out into different segments of society will supposedly solve the maldistribution problem, evermore guns seeping into different segments—especially good-guy segments like kindergarten teachers and church deacons—will solve the gun violence problem.
What a massacre of truth and logic, especially when coupled with the next lie in the NRA’s arsenal.
Guns Don’t “Cause”
The gun-violence Kuznets curve isn’t the only wicked logic pitched by the NRA and its loyal legions. They love to argue that “guns don’t kill people; people do.” With this argument they not only lay claim to an unassailable thread of logic, but usher in a whole school of red herrings to get the focus off guns.
Once the focus is on the “real” cause of gun violence, the town hall descends into irrelevant gibberish. Some aspiring Plato opines that people don’t really cause violence, either; societies do. Next, Jerry Falwell’s disciple says it’s not society, but the Devil, bent on destroying souls. But no, says the guy in the Darwin T-shirt, it’s neither people nor society nor the Devil, but evolution, which brought about violent tendencies especially in young men.
By now, if you haven’t noticed, guns aren’t even in the conversation. Mission accomplished for the NRA!
Meanwhile the unassailability of the NRA’s logic—yes, a gun on its own will just sit there, not killing folk—is a source of frustration for gun control proponents, and for people with common sense. It’s like the frustration caused by pro-growth interests who tell us that economic growth doesn’t “cause” environmental problems; rather it’s people and the technological choices they make that cause the problems. Which leads us back to arguing about society, the devil, evolution, aliens, PizzaGate…anything but economic growth!
NRA’s Argument Rests on Magic
For an argument to be “sound” (right in other words), two conditions must be met. First, the premises must be correct. Second, the argument must be valid, meaning that the premises must logically lead to the argument’s conclusion. If a premise is incorrect or the argument is invalid, the argument is “unsound,” or simply wrong.
Not that the NRA posits a deductive argument to begin with. They’re not arguing in classic logical form, “All guns are owned by good guys. Good guys never commit gun violence. Therefore, no guns are used in acts of violence.” That would be a valid argument, because if all guns were owned by good guys (and never stolen or commandeered by bad guys), and if good guys never did commit gun violence, then no guns could be used in acts of violence. Unfortunately, the first premise is patently false—plenty of creeps own guns—and the second premise wouldn’t be true unless we defined a “good guy” as someone who never commits gun violence, reducing the premise to a truism. The argument, in other words, is unsound, despite its technical validity. To put it more bluntly, it would be a stupid argument or an outright lie.
The big-moneyed NRA isn’t stupid and doesn’t commit such an obvious lie. In fact, the NRA avoids deduction altogether. Their fallacious logic is more slippery to pinpoint, but self-contradiction is evident enough. They’ve told us that guns don’t “cause” gun violence. On the other hand, they’d have us believe that more guns would reduce—cause a reduction in—gun violence. They can’t have it both ways; can’t have their bullets and shoot them too.
Next, the notion that evermore guns in the hands of evermore people would lessen the incidence or impacts of gun violence is subject to some good, swift, valid reductio ad absurdum: If there were zero guns, we could have a whole society of Satan-worshiping creeps, and yet not a single act of gun violence could possibly occur.
What if there was one gun? Or ten? Still very little gun violence could transpire, and we wouldn’t need the billions of dollars of security equipment for safeguarding our workplaces, churches, and schools from bad guys with guns. (Yes, airports and political rallies would still need plenty of protection from other types of terrorism.)
Now if 100,000 Americans owned guns—especially AR-15s—we’d have to start taking notice and staying alert. A creep with an AR-15 can mow down as many people in one spree as all the gun-related homicides per year in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Netherlands.
Still, compare these low-gun scenarios to the level of gun violence we have today, not even with a population of Satan-worshiping gun nuts but with “regular” American citizens: 45,222 gun-related deaths in 2020, including over 19,384 homicides. That’s more than the number of people (38,824) that died in car accidents!
At what point along their gun-violence Kuznets curve does the NRA think the magical reversal will commence? We already have over 100 million armed Americans (32 percent of the population). What happens when we reach 100 percent gun ownership and have even more grotesque levels of carnage? What do we do then? Start cloning everyone so we can arm more people yet, chasing that ever-elusive inflection point? When do we have enough of this deranged social experiment? Especially given the utter lack of scholarly corroboration for decades now.
Sympathy for the Gun Industry?
To be fair to the NRA, we must acknowledge that they don’t say, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is an even worse jackass with a gun.” Rather, it’s the “good guy” (and gal, and kid, and possibly soon robot) the NRA wants armed, preferably to the profit-maximizing teeth, locked and loaded and fully accessorized. That alone undermines the gun-violence Kuznets curve, as it puts quite a limitation along the X axis, where “Gun Owners” should really be “Exclusively Good Gun Owners.”
On the other hand, given the extreme position of the NRA against gun control—even against expanding background checks—they must be assuming that all remaining unarmed Americans are already good. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they want to do a better job of discerning bad from good, so their modified Kuznets curve might have some validity? Well, you know the NRA; they always have an answer, such as following their advice and investing much more of our hard-earned taxes in mental health, so we can arm every man, woman, and child without bothering to discern. That way, just in case somebody falls back through the cracks into the bad category, we’re all prepared to shoot the hell out of them at a moment’s notice.
Until that glorious day, though, we have numerous other barriers to getting the guns from the factory floor into the hands of the good guys, and keeping them exclusively there. For example, guess what else (aside from gun violence) the bad guys are known for. I bet you’ve already arrived at the answer, because it’s such common knowledge. Yes, bad guys are known for stealing! Consider an annotated list of the top five crimes committed in the USA:
- Larceny/theft. Better not leave those guns out in plain sight (where they might have been handy for stopping bad guys with guns).
- Burglary. Keep those guns locked up tight, you good guys and gals. Guns are stolen “in staggering numbers,” especially from houses and cars and trucks. Speaking of cars and trucks…
- Motor vehicle theft. Once that vehicle is gone, it’s adios to the Glock in the glovebox. Chalk one up for the bad guy (one more gun that is), and cross one off for the good guy.
- Aggravated assault. If you’re the assaultee, you better hope it’s not aggravated and exacerbated by an AR-15.
- Robbery. If you’re not fast on the draw, or your sidearm’s been stolen, or your handgun is locked away for theft prevention…stick ‘em up! Otherwise your number just might be “45,223.”
I suppose it would be possible to have some amount of sympathy for the gun manufacturers under pressure, their attorneys, the NRA, and the NSSF. However, there wouldn’t be much left for them, not even empathy; not after thinking of all the innocent guys and gals—never before armed—suddenly faced with the heavy-handed and heavy-hearted responsibility of packing a sidearm. Homeowners, soccer moms, preachers, and teachers in certain school districts are facing this responsibility, feeling coerced to put in the time, money, and psychological effort for learning about guns, practicing shooting, and getting trained up for responding to a bad guy with a gun in unthinkable scenarios.
These everyday Americans are the good guys—exceptionally good Americans—and they’re good without guns. Sure, there are good guys with guns, too. (I like to think I’m one of them, with my .243 for venison.) We’re overlooking some bad guys with guns, though. The real bad guys start with the AR-15-toting NRA. They’re leading innocent people astray with their lies, they’re bullying politicians and school boards, and they’re abetting gun violence galore with the vilest Kuznets curve on the books.
You might say the NRA has a bright future, though. Where they’re headed, everyone will finally be toting an AR-15.
Brian Czech is the executive director of CASSE.