Ending Gun Violence: Common Sense Versus Magic

The only defender guaranteed to be present at any attack against you is you.



What passes for thinking about the prevention of gun violence is not thinking at all. Thinking (as problem-solving) is a search for means that can be reasonably expected to achieve a given end. By reasonably I mean that supporting arguments can be provided to demonstrate to the satisfaction of reasonable people the connection between the means and ends. What we get from gun-control advocates is nothing like that; instead they operate on the magical belief that uttering certain words—codifying just the right incantation—will accomplish the end. 

We know they believe in magic, not logic, because those who propose to restrict individual rights regarding guns see no need to explain how their proposals would reduce or end gun violence. For them it's enough to declare their sincere belief that this is the case and to invoke polls showing that a majority of people also believe in whatever is being proposed.

What's belief got to do with it?

Passing "common-sense gun laws," gun controllers say, would prevent mass shootings. "Universal" background checks is the most popular proposal. But where is the explanation of how that would achieve the end? Not only is this not explained; the people supposedly paid to raise such questions—journalists—never even ask. Most of them operate on the basis of magical belief too.

Let's look at "universal" background checks. The term indicates that all would-be gun buyers would actually undergo a check. Leaving aside the recent mass murderers who passed background checks, we know that universal checks are impossible no matter what the legislation says because buyers in the black market, gun thieves, and those who are given guns will not be included.

Similar objections apply to the anti-gun lobby's other magical proposals. Each would leave untouched those who obtain their guns through already illegal channels. 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. 

We see the same disposition in the "mental health" approach to preventing gun violence. Some conservatives like this approach presumably because it deflects attention from guns. But proposing, as Mike Huckabee and others have, that the government "do a better job in mental health"—whatever that means—tells us nothing about how it would prevent gun violence. What justifies the belief that psychiatrists and others in the field can predict with reasonable accuracy who is likely to commit mass murder? (Psychiatrists are not known to be competent at predicting who among their own patients will become violent.) Isn't it more likely that people who never would have committed violent acts would be drugged and imprisoned (in "hospitals"), while others never even suspected of being potentially dangerous would go on to commit horrendous acts? One shudders at the civil-liberties implications of "doing a better job in mental health." Do we want the police to have pre-crime units?

In contrast to the incantations offered by practitioners of public-policy magic, gun-rights advocates propose measures that reasonably can be expected to prevent or reduce the extent of mass murder: for example, eliminating government-mandated gun-free zones. (Property owners of course should be free to exclude guns, however foolish that is.) Those with ill-intent are unlikely to respect gun-free zones, but most peaceful individuals will. Thus they will be defenseless against aggressors. Gun-free zones, then, are invitations to mass murder. Refusal to acknowledge that fact is also a sign of a magical disposition.

When this objection to gun-free zones is raised, gun-controllers typically respond that the answer to gun violence cannot be "more guns." But when aggressors are the only ones with guns, what would be wrong with more guns if they were in the right hands? Eliminating gun-free zones would in effect put guns in the hands of the innocent at the scene of the attack. As it now stands, the only people with guns are the killers and police, who may be miles away. (Too often the killers are the police.) The connection between means and end is clear. If would-be mass killers suspected they would meet resistance early on, they might be deterred from launching their attack. But even if not, the chances of minimizing an attack would obviously be greater if some of the gunman's intended victims were armed.

Another reasonable measure would be to remove all restrictions, such as permit requirements, on concealed or open carry of handguns. Again, the link between means and ends is clear. Concealed carry has the bonus of a free-rider benefit: when people are free to carry concealed handguns, assailants, who clearly prefer their victims unarmed, won't know who's carrying and who's not. That extra measure of deterrence—that positive externality—could be expected to save innocent lives.

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. It's a myth that government assumes responsibility for our security, since it does not promise round-the-clock personal protection and its officers are not legally obligated to protect you even if an assault occurs before their eyes. 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.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.