I find it highly distasteful to engage in the debate about gun control at this time first because I think gun control advocates are using an incomprehensible tragedy for political gain and I don’t want to play into their hands; second, because I am still sick about what happened in Newtown–I cannot stop thinking about it and I really want to; and third, and most important, because the gun control debate detracts from the real issue in this case: society and mental illness.* Many rampage killings occur in the U.S., but also in countries with strict gun control and all over the world by means other than guns. Why do people kill like this? And is there anything we can do about it?
Despite my personal preference to focus on other issues, the gun debate has been reignited once again and I do have some thoughts to share on the subject.
Gun control is a two-part debate: (1) will stricter gun control or more liberal gun rights result in greater day-to-day safety, and (2) regardless of the answer to the first question, isn’t it necessary to have an effectively armed citizenry in order to deter governmental tyranny?
I usually skip the first question because regardless of the answer to that one, the second one is decisive in my opinion. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini and Pol Pot among them killed over 100,000,000 of their own, mostly disarmed, citizens in the twentieth century. No matter how many mass shootings there are, nothing can compare with a murderous government. I am not suggesting that our current government is murderous, I am just anticipating the obvious. In the immortal words of the great Lord Acton, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” State power rests on firepower–give the state an absolute monopoly on firepower and it has an absolute monopoly on power, full stop.
Today, however, I will also address the first question, the more pressing question: Would a gun ban reduce violent crimes in the United States? After much consideration and reconsideration on this aspect of the gun control issue, I have come to believe that it will not and I think it may even make things worse. In the United States every year, up to four times as many crimes are prevented by guns than are committed with them and one hundred gun crimes are prevented for every gun accident. There is also empirical evidence that supports the position that gun bans increase gun crime (Washington DC, Australia, Scotland, the previous U.S. assault weapon ban) and that mandatory gun ownership reduces crime (Kennesaw).
There is an argument to be made that crime goes up immediately after a gun ban as the law-abiding jettison their weapons and the criminal do not (as exemplified in this brilliant video), but over time, the argument goes on, guns become scarcer and crime decreases. I myself believe that even if this could be the experience in some countries, that it would not happen in the United States for several reasons.
1. I believe that we have a high rate of gun ownership in the United States for the same reason we have loose gun laws, not simply because we have loose gun laws. We are a nation that has historically taken personal responsibility and personal liberty seriously–we were, to borrow from Murray Rothbard, conceived in liberty. We as a people have always had a justified fear of coercive government and the power it derives from its guns–hence our Founders’ fears of a standing army. We understand the value of guns and the reasoning behind the Second Amendment; we live it and we demand it.
2. We have a great number of illegal guns in part because we create robust black markets, particularly for drugs. This has the effect of maximizing the number of transactions whose only method of enforcement is on-the-spot violence, the parties to the transactions having no recourse to the law. Mexico, which is left off every single international comparison I have seen attempting to demonstrate the inverse correlation between gun control and homicides, has a total gun ban yet has four times the murder rate of the U.S. There have been 60,000 dead in 6 years in the Drug War, which, unlike most of the cartels’ guns, was imported from the United States. Banning guns will not reduce the number of guns used in the illegal drug trade in the United States any more than it does in Mexico, especially considering that those involved in that trade are clearly not deterred by bans.
3. In the United States, when we ban stuff we don’t actually get rid of it, we use it like all our other regulations to facilitate all manner of cronyistic relationships. The continuing Drug War, for example, benefits Big Pharma by making expensive otherwise cheap substitutes for their products, finances off the radar projects and relationships, and keeps an army of government workers employed, if not bribed. Now if we were like Singapore, where a ban is a freakin’ ban (lethally enforced!), then maybe we could get rid of guns, but let’s be real, that’s not the American Way (thank goodness!)
4. There is a huge, legal market for guns that will never go away no matter what Obama, Feinstein and Bloomberg say they want. No modern American politician has ever proposed legislation that the government be disarmed. There is 100% agreement in Washington (now that Ron Paul is retiring) that the government should be a coercive monopoly with its ultimate power resting on the threat and use of force. Guns are not like smallpox which can be eradicated because there is no demand for it. There will always be a demand for guns and for that reason, guns, like the poor, will always be with us. So of the three groups currently holding all the guns in the world: governments, criminals and law-abiding citizens, the gun ban the politicians are calling for would only disarm the third group, law-abiding citizens, yet it’s the first two who commit all the murders.
5. Finally, there are hundreds of millions of guns in the hands of U.S. citizens already. That’s right: hundreds of millions of guns. If you try to take those guns away from the people who own them you will have more bloodshed in one year than all the mass shootings in the history of the world (and if not, we’re beyond hope). Think Waco and Ruby Ridge multiplied by thousands. Fifty million households have guns in this country right now and many of those are folks who are, shall we say, not disposed to having those guns taken away from them by the very entity they are trying to guard against. Even if 99.9% of legal gun owners voluntarily relinquished their guns, there would be some serious ugliness. And if the government is not planning to disarm current gun-owners, then what’s the point?
This is part two of a two part post. See also part one, It’s Faith & It’s Fascism.
*Update (July 2017): I don’t know what to think about Newtown anymore.