Martial Culture and Gun Culture, A Response to Tyler Cowen

This morning Tyler Cowen proposed a link between martial culture and the rate of gun ownership in American society.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts.  But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

Note that the parts of the country with the most guns, namely the South, are especially prominent in the military and support for the military.

More importantly, if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry.  And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

It seems to me a martial culture would be hard to measure (at least for the 0 dollars I plan to spend measuring it), however we have what seems like a decent proxy (one Tyler himself proposed) in military membership.  This was intuitively plausible, Switzerland and Finland for example have both relatively large reserve forces and high civilian gun ownership rates, so I went and checked whether there was a link.

All Countries All Duty

That’s pretty underwhelming. Now there are some differences in how different countries deal with paramilitary forces and reserves, so lets restrict it to active duty armed forces

All Countries Active Duty

That’s actually impressively uncorrelated. Just OECD countries this time
OECD All Duty

OECD active duty armed forces, for thoroughness

OECD Active Duty

Colour me skeptical.

P.S. I would love to re-run this with veterans instead of the currently serving, so if you happen to know of a decent dataset feel free to pass it on, or do the work yourself and let us know

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