Interesting Feedback on a Post on the Law of Unintended Consequences

A regular reader recently commented (in person) that I had possibly gone too far in a post on a newspaper which purposefully published the names of some gunowners who were subsequently robbed. In the post, I followed what I thought was a perfectly logical path which suggested that a cause - the publishing of the names - led to an effect - the robbery - which was not only probable, but possibly intended. The punchline was that it was a post not about unintended, but rather intended, consequences.

The reader, whose judgment I value greatly, and is usually a voice of reason when I moot my more outlandish conspiracy theories, argued (if I might paraphrase) that the whole thing was instead most likely an unfortunate set of coincidences.

However, while I might have gone a bit far in suggesting that the editors of the paper intended for illegal activity to occur, my conclusions might not have been as incredible in nature as the reader suggested. The very publishing of the names and addresses of the gunowners was an act which was political in nature. In addition, it was an act which, even if not "intended" to provoke reactions from others in the community (shame? questions? avoidance?), was certainly of a nature which made such reactions probable.

And if it were probable that there would be reactions from law-abiding members of the community, wasn't is also possible that those who don't conform to society's rules and laws might react to the information as well?

I am not sure whether it is more or less polite to suggest that someone in the media had nefarious political ends in mind when doing something, or whether they were instead willfully blind to the very likely consequences of their actions. However, in either case, it seems to me that the newspaper was at least negligent. And we should expect more (mounting evidence to the contrary) from those who report the news.


  1. Anonymous15/5/13 16:51

    I was surprised at the suggestion that publishing names of gun owners would make them less secure. A key econometric theory in support of gun rights is deterrence -- why rob a home of a gun owner when you could rob a home of an unarmed person? And if a sufficient number of people own guns, and their identities are not known, non-gun-owners will get the benefit of that deterrence as well. Thieves will know that many homes have people with guns inside, and should be deterred from robbing anyone, as they do not know who is armed and who is not. Publishing names of gun owners would make non-gun-owners less secure under that theory, because thieves would know which houses it was "safe" to rob.

    So it was surprising to me that your post suggested the opposite -- that the knowledge that someone owns a gun might have made it MORE likely that they would be robbed.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Anon. Your premise (whether you agree with it yourself or are merely pointing out that it is something I would typically agree with, I am unsure) seems to be that crimes are less likely to be committed against those who are known to be either carrying weapons or are homeowners who are also gunowners.

    While I would typically agree, that analysis doesn't hold up as well when the subject of the burglary is the gun itself.

    If the gun itself is the target of the burglary, then would-be criminals will either take the risk of burgling a home with gunowners (maybe if they are desperate), or seek to mitigate the risk by determining when the gunowners are out (what they might call 'street sense', or otherwise that species of logic normal people in normal situations might call common sense).

    Or it is possibly true that the burglars, not being regular readers of the newspaper, had no idea that there were guns there at all and merely reacted to the mother lode they found. In that case, my original premise that the publishers of the paper had some nefarious intent would be off, but the econo-logic analysis would still (mostly) work.


    1. Sorry for the clumsy language in the first para.

      It should read: ...seems to be that crimes are less likely to be committed against those who are either known to be carrying weapons or are homeowners who are also gunowners.