Common-Sense Gun Laws, Damon Root, FBI Uniform Crime Report, Glenn Reynolds, Gun Control, Gun violence, Individual Right to Bear Arms, Lawrence Tribe, Magical Thinking, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Ordinary Constitutional Law, Sanford Levinson, Second Amendment, Sheldon Richman
How would “common-sense gun laws” reduce the incidence of mass shootings, total homicides or gun violence in general? Many believe it to be true, but convincing explanations are hard to come by. That’s because reasoned thinking does not produce those explanations. Nevertheless, words are cheap, and the sheer flow of weak memes and bad journalism appears to wash the brains of those with a vulnerability to gun hysteria. Sheldon Richman addresses the feeble logic of gun control proposals in the wake of last week’s tragic shootings in Oregon. He states flatly that the claims of gun control advocates rely on “magical thinking”, and that “common sense” supports other policies. (Richman is quite a guy, having been featured in two consecutive posts on this blog).
As a preface, the recent FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2014 shows another in a long series of reductions in homicides and gun violence. This has occurred despite a trend of rising gun ownership. Previous posts on Sacred Cow Chips have dealt with the evidence on gun violence and the efficacy of gun control measures, including “A Farewell To Firearms Control“, “Causal Confusion In The Gun Debate“, and “When Government Prohibits Self Defense“. Among other issues, these posts note the overwhelming evidence that defensive gun uses far outweigh gun homicides.
Advocates of stricter gun control measures assert that they would somehow reduce the frequency of mass shootings. Richman picks apart the claim that universal background checks would help. In fact, it’s clear from the circumstances that additional restrictions on the sale of guns would not have prevented any of the high-profile mass shootings in recent memory, including New Town, Charleston and Roseburg. Some of those killers passed background checks. Furthermore, more restrictions on gun sales would do nothing to prevent illegal trade in guns.
“We can have no reasonable expectation that people who intend to commit violent offenses against others will be deterred by mere restrictions on gun purchases and possession. Stubbornly ignoring that self-evident truth is the sign of a magical disposition.“
Hillary Clinton proposes universal background checks, confiscation of weapons from domestic abusers and holding gun manufacturers and dealers liable for crimes perpetrated with weapons they made or sold. Those last two proposals are an affront to liberty, and the last is likely to be counterproductive by pricing low-income buyers out of the market, who are arguably most in need of guns for self-defense.
Richman ridicules the notion that gun violence can be reduced by devoting more resources to mental health care. I don’t agree with him 100% on this — improved mental health care might have a small effect — but he argues the point effectively. It is difficult to see how any reasonable initiative in this area could have more than a minor impact on gun violence, and by that I mean an initiative that respects individual liberty. Proponents might imagine lovely rest homes and caring personal psychiatric consultations for those identified as psychotic, along with lots of nice drugs. Perhaps they’ll get the drugs, but as often articulated, the concept smacks too much of a “lock ’em up” mentality. The accuracy with which murderers can be properly diagnosed will be close to zero, and it may cost some of the eccentric among us dearly. Richman asks facetiously whether the police should form “pre-crime” units.
As an aside, I must make note of the gun control “meme-of-the-day”: for me, it was one from “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America“. It suggested that guns should be regulated just as motor vehicles are regulated, including a requirement for liability insurance coverage. The comparison is laughable. The creation of public thoroughfares allows the state to assert that driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right. However, the individual right to bear arms is firmly protected by the Second Amendment and has been upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2008. It is not a privilege granted by the state. Moreover, how would one define an “insurable” gun death? Those would be accidents, which are quite small in number relative to motor vehicle deaths. It would not include suicides. Most gun incidents involve criminals who will not bother to arrange insurance coverage. Only the law-abiding will do so, and their insurers will have to grapple with the difficulty of handling claims against defensive gun users. Guns are much easier to hide than cars, so effective enforcement doesn’t stand a chance; nor do annual inspections. The expense and abridgment of personal liberty inherent in this proposal would be massive, with little if any effect on gun violence.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Damon Root’s excellent article on the Second Amendment. As noted above, it protects the individual right to bear arms, not merely our right as a collective. As Glenn Reynolds has written, the Second Amendment should be viewed as “ordinary constitutional law“. Root emphasizes the extent to which prominent legal minds on the Left have concluded the same. He quotes Sanford Levinson (among others such as Lawrence Tribe):
“The embarrassment, Levinson argued, came from the legal left’s refusal to take the Second Amendment seriously. ‘I cannot help but suspect that the best explanation for the absence of the Second Amendment from the legal consciousness of the elite bar,’ he wrote, ‘is derived from a mixture of sheer opposition to the idea of private ownership of guns and the perhaps subconscious fear that altogether plausible, and perhaps even ‘winning’ interpretations would present real hurdles to those of us supporting prohibitory regulation.’“
If the usual gun control proposals won’t work, what can be done to reduce mass shootings and gun victimhood in general? Richman discusses the elimination of “gun-free zones” and rebuts the typical objections to doing so. (He is critical of police, who surely deserve blame for certain gun deaths, but Richman may have an inadequate appreciation for the difficulty of police work.) Richman also promotes ending restrictions on concealed and open-carry of handguns. Here is part of his closing, but read the whole thing:
“Believers in gun-control magic refuse to acknowledge that one cannot effectively delegate one’s right to or responsibility for self-defense. With enough money, one might arrange for assistance in self-defense, but few will be able to afford protection 24/7. … The only defender guaranteed to be present at any attack against you is: you.
Those who believe in the right to bear arms have common sense on their side in the matter of ending mass shootings. Magic won’t do it.“