Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Grown Up Gun Control Discussion

Once again, the gun control debate flames on in the US. Unfortunately for US citizens (and my Facebook friends), no one seems to be able to discuss gun control in an adult manner. That's why I'm here, to free your mind.

There are three main branches of the gun control debate:
  1. All American citizens have the right to own any kind of weapon that they want; based on the 2nd  Amendment to the Constitution
  2. There needs to be some sort of limiting factors on gun purchases: background checks, waiting periods, etc...
  3. The only people who should be allowed access to guns are specific government employees
These are all incorrect, for different reasons. 

Judge Andrew Napolitano is fond of saying that the most important word in the 1st and 2nd amendments is the word 'the.' The use of the word 'the' by the founders indicates that _the_ right to bear arms precedes the Constitution. It is a natural progression from our right to defend ourselves. When the Constitution was being drafted, the authors did not believe that they were giving any rights to the people, merely defending those natural rights endowed by our creator (whatever you believe that to be). This is why the first argument fails. Our right to bear arms is not derived from the Constitution. The government did not give us the right and it is not theirs to take. The 2nd Amendment merely recognizes that our right to self-defense exists and prohibits the federal government from interfering with that right. This might seem like a minor technicality, but I think it's important that we remain philosophically consistent when discussing possible limitations on our rights.

Many people buy into the idea that some limits on gun ownership is a happy middle ground. Those that want to purchase guns are still able and the people who want increased 'safety' are satisfied. At first blush, this seems reasonable and even if the gun control measures are largely ineffective at accomplishing their intended goals, what's the harm? At the very least, we've made gun ownership a little safer.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. It's true that law abiding citizens will have a more difficult time obtaining a weapon, a criminal will not bother to check the new regulations to insure that their purchase was legal. In effect, citizens wanting to purchase firearms for legitimate purposes are further hindered, while criminals continue to enjoy the same level of access as under previous legislative attempts. This causes yet another effect, law abiding citizens have a more difficult time defending themselves from the criminal element.

In Lincoln, NE (where I live) the average response time of the Lincoln Police Department in 2011 (the last available year's worth of data) to a priority one or priority two dispatch was 4.5 minutes. Their goal is to maintain a dispatch time average of under 5 minutes. A lot of damage can be inflicted in 5 minutes. Either on a person or their property. By inhibiting law abiding citizens from purchasing guns, we reduce their ability to defend themselves from an enemy free of the same constraints.

In addition to being ineffective, gun control laws are costly. This is a cost that is accomplishing nothing. Literally, it is throwing away money. Normally, when we expend resources, we expect an equal exchange of value. $4 for a gallon of milk, for instance. With gun control laws, no value has been created to account for the spent resources. In the US there are currently more than 300 gun control laws in effect, each one championed as the end to gun violence. *

The last argument is to make any and all firearms illegal for civilians, with the possible exception of hunting. In this way, legally purchased guns won't be able to become illegal guns. Therefore, gun crime and thus, violent crime, would be reduced. This idea is most unreasonable. If we think of gun control legislation in terms of economics, we can see that the trade of guns would not be substantially reduced even if we made all guns illegal. Making guns illegal does not diminish the value that people place on them. There will always be a demand for that value. So long as there is a demand, there will always be a supplier. We see the same idea in the enforcement of drug laws. There is no shortage of legislation, some of which carry severe consequences, banning illicit drugs. Neither is there a shortage of illicit drugs. Prohibitive legislation only forces the cost of the resource up, without a corresponding increase in value.

When they affirmed our right as human beings to defend ourselves, the framer's intent was to insure that we could defend ourselves from the government. They knew all to well the advantage an overly powerful government would take if left unchecked by the citizens. Both the Federalists and the Anti-federalist (whose Papers I hope you will read if you haven't already) expressed their fear of an out of control government vs. an unarmed citizenry.

"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not." -- Thomas Jefferson

* If local laws are accounted for, there are quite a few more, but we will only consider the most commonly applied state and federal laws.

** I need to look up how to do footnotes on Blogger.

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