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Summer 2002
The Contrarian
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Volokh can speak for precise paragraphs at a stretch on various legal aspects of social policy, but every so often the propeller-head prodigy he once was breaks through his current policy-wonk persona and begins spinning. "We'll meet at 927 Manchester," he announced one afternoon to a group he'd assembled at his home high in the West Hollywood Hills for a lecture on gun safety — "Unsafety of any kind is my abhorrence!" — followed by target shooting at the LAX Firing Range near the airport. "That's an easy address to remember," he added briskly: "Three squared followed by three cubed."

Volokh began organizing these field trips several years ago when he noticed that most people who exclaimed that they hated guns had never actually handled one. "You know, I perfectly well understand people's arguments in favor of gun control, and some of them are very powerful, although I'm not persuaded by them," he says. "But to hate an inanimate object is a very strange thing. It made me think it's actually helpful to go out there and have it be demystified, get that out of the way and return to rational policy analysis."

Perhaps because he is used to being so much smarter than almost everyone he encounters, Volokh often tempers his conversation with signals that indicate he is indeed considering another person's point of view. A cheery "fair enough!" is one of his favorite phrases. "Interesting..." is another, said with a thoughtful cock of his head and brief stare into the middle distance. Still, he generally gets the last word.

At the target-shooting excursion I attended, Roman Genn, a political caricaturist and fellow Russian èmigrè, takes mild issue with Volokh's citing of countries like Israel, which has a high rate of gun ownership but a low crime rate. "The homicide rate in Russia went up after they allowed guns," Genn points out. "True," responds Volokh, "but there you also have to look at the quality of the data." I wonder why Volokh doesn't worry about party guests wandering around his house finding the loaded gun he keeps in his nightstand. "I trust my guests not to start opening drawers," he says. Besides, "If a person coming to my house is that intent on killing us, he could bring his own gun."

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