Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Real Common Sense on Gun Control

A false sense of security is worse than no sense of security at all.

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomErik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomHere's how to judge the pragmatic case for gun control: if the pro-control lobby managed to have each of its favorite restrictions enacted, could we as individuals be more casual about our safety than we are today? The answer clearly is no. So what's the point of the restrictions beyond letting their advocates feel good about themselves?

A false sense of security is worse than no sense of security at all.

Mass shooters have obtained their guns legally, having had no disqualifiers in their records; used guns legally obtained by someone else; or obtained them despite existing laws. Therefore, the controls most commonly called for would not have prevented those massacres.

In the latest massacre, the shooter had a disqualifier—a less-than-honorable discharge from the Air Force after a year in the brig for domestic abuse—but the Air Force failed to report that disqualifier to the FBI and so it never got into the database that was checked when the shooter bought guns from licensed dealers. New controls, such expanded background checks, would not have prevented the shooting because the Air Force was already required to report the shooter's conviction to the FBI. Even a ban on rifles with certain features, misleadingly called "assault weapons," would not have prevented the shooting because equally powerful rifles would have been available

Thus the victims of the latest shooter, like the victims of the previous mass shootings, would have been no safer under the sought-after gun-control regime than they were at the time they were murdered.

But this is not the end of the story. Even if those shooters had been unable to obtain their guns as they did, it does not follow that they would have been prevented from committing their monstrous offenses. How many times must it be pointed out that someone who is bent on murder is not likely to be deterred by legal restrictions on the purchase of guns?

The gun-control advocates pretend that legal methods are the only way to obtain firearms, but we know that is not true. People have always been able to obtain guns through illegal channels. Gun-running—firearms smuggling and trafficking—is probably as old as the earliest gun restrictions. Guns can be stolen and sold. (There are 300 million of them.) Guns can be made in garages. Guns will eventually be made routinely on 3D printers. Supply responds to demand. Black markets thrive whenever products are prohibited.

But the black market—by definition—is already illegal. So what are gun-controllers to do, make the black market doubly illegal? I don't think that's a solution.

Even more drastic forms of control won't change this story. The Australian tax-financed eminent-domain approach, in which the government ordered people to sell their guns to the government, failed to remove all guns from society. "That policy … removed up to one million weapons from Australians' hands and homes," Varad Mehta writes. "This was, depending on the estimate, a fifth to a third of Australia's gun stock." How many bad people do you imagine surrendered their guns?

How would an Australia program—which some Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, favor—do here? Not very well, I'd guess. Think what would happen if the government tried to confiscate people's guns with a heavier hand than that used by the Australian politicians. Individual rights aside, would that be an acceptable outcome for the sake of reducing gun violence? (Do be aware that most gun fatalities are suicides.)

If people with bad intent would continue to obtain guns no matter what gun controls were on the books, it follows that people's responsibility for their own safety remains the same in all circumstances. Even beefing up police forces won't deliver greater safety: the cops are always too far away, and besides, they have no legal obligation to save you.

The worst outcome would be for people to believe they were safe simply because Congress passed some piece of magic legislation favored by gun-controllers. That would be a cruel joke.

This piece was originally published by The Libertarian Institute.

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Rich||

    So what are gun-controllers to do, make the black market doubly illegal? I don't think that's a solution.

    How about making it a hate crime? Would that work?

  • Kevin Tyssen||

    Why do we have to ban the *black* market, racist? Maybe we should ban the white market!

  • jogibew||

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do... www.netcash10.com

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Can they make guns look less scary?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Reason could at least find protesters able to spell "DISARM BATF" for their cover photos!

  • MamaLiberty||

    Forget the gun part for now... concentrate on the "CONTROL."

    The desire/compulsion to control other people and their property is the root of all evil.

    Think about it.

  • Hank Phillips||

    But... that's altruism!

  • DajjaI||

    At the risk of being banned again by Reason, I would point out that restricting gun sales to men under 30 with daughters would be a far more effective way to prevent mass murders than going after people with criminal records or 'mental illness'.

    Jill Stein approves this message.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And change voting age to 30 while we're at it.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    And anyone who voted for Obama twice, or for the CPUSA ever, should be forever banned from voting.

  • vek||

    It's a good idea really. Now that we don't have the draft, the main argument that lowered it to 18 is gone!

  • mpercy||

    We could just subject them to the same level of scrutiny that carry permit people go through.

    Have to show up in person, with approved ID and proof of citizenship and residency. Then be fingerprinted and photographed, then have a wants & warrants check plus FBI background check run. Since it's for voting purposes, we can waive the normal not-insignificant fees associated with getting a carry permit.

    Once they pass, the ID they get issued would be suitable for voting purposes! So no excuses for low-income folks to not have proper ID for voting anymore.

    If 2nd amendment "shall not be infringed" but going through all those hoops is OK, I fail to see how simply asking people to prove they are eligible citizens and residents of the district in which they are attempting to vote is so onerous.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Reason, please ban this idiot some more.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "I feel safer already!" -Brazilian Women

  • SQRLSY One||

    We actually need just ONE law...

    Everyone is required to love everyone else!

    Presto-Changeo, no more murders of ANY kind, with ANY weapons! No starvation, no hate, no hurt baby feelings, even!

    (Don't tell me we'd be "bored"... We'd still have volcanoes, etc., natural disasters of all kinds, to keep us on our toes).

    Would the Government-Almighty worshippers be content with this all-encompassing law? Please note that "love everyone" would mean that we'd have to love the taxpayers, too, and not tax them to death).

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And not run their lives every time they take a substance we don't like.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Amen! And also not punish non-Native-Americans, every time that an eagle feather falls onto their property, and they proudly display said eagle feather in their home, or they accidentally step on a southern turd-slimed yellow-bellied endangered bacteria, etc.

    Sad to say, the list goes on and on and on...

  • Rat on a train||

    In the latest massacre, the shooter had a disqualifier—a less-than-honorable discharge from the Air Force after a year in the brig for domestic abuse—
    Your dungarees are showing. Unless he was sent to a Navy facility he was in a stockade not a brig.

  • MikeP52||

    He was confined at MCAS Miramar. So "brig" is appropriate.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    OMG ... I am agreeing with Richman ...

    /Looking for the Four Horsemen

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I'm shocked he didn't blame it all on Israel.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Clearly, Kelley's time as a USAF Kittenihilator First Class was the origin of his deranged mind.

  • Longtobefree||

    The four horsemen could not get a parade permit.
    Something about shovels and buckets - - - -

  • vek||

    That was my first thought too!!!

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    And once again a Reason article about Australia's confiscation focuses on the semi-auto rifle buyback that, if nothing else, didn't cause any more mass shootings, while bizarrely ignoring the Melbourne vehicle ramming that killed 6 people this January (average US mass shooting casualties: 7.4).

    I honestly get the sense that most of the Reason authors aren't aware this attack occurred. The average gun control supporter certainly isn't.

  • NYC2AZ||

    "So what's the point of the restrictions beyond letting their advocates feel good about themselves?"

    The answer has always been incrementalism. Several anti-gun groups and politicians have owned up to that in one form or another... as well as states that are dominated by anti-gun politicians, such as NJ, NY, and CA. "Scary looking black rifles" have been the low hanging fruit since the 1980's when anti-gun groups realized they weren't going to get an outright handgun ban unless they scared people into it.

    Don't think they'll want shotguns and deer rifles after a handgun ban? Check out some headlines after the Navy Yard shooting about "Police Style" and "Assault Style" Shotguns and anything with a mounted scope becomes a "Sniper Rifle" in the press.

    While this might be a pipe dream from the perspective of most middle Americans, it's an achievable goal to several of my anti gun family members and former friends that still reside in The Bubble.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    I have come to the conclusion Progressives are as shit-flingingly stupid as the most Fundie SoCon they despise. None of these dumbfucks think about the fact that the first people to feel the brunt of the SWAT/Military raids to seize guns will be minorities and the poor. They won't be kicking in the doors of rich white people or the politically connected. The mountain of body bags from The War on Drugs apparently doesn't penetrate their thick State-sucking skulls nor how such a disarmament would probably start a nasty insurgency that will see drive-bys, bombings and spree-killings that willmake your eyes bleed. Nope we need Gun Control cause "think of the children!"

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    You both [NYCAZ and Ama-.Gi]; progressives see themselves as morally superior and on the right side of history. This is what fundamentally motivates them. And, by the way, they are smart and you are stupid. It's just a given, bumpkins.

    Of course savvy politicians who find themselves in places like Boston and San Francisco do what successful politicians always do, by parroting what the majority of their constituents want and feel in order to get, and stay, elected. And of course when you known what excites your voters, it doesn't hurt to inflame them along the way.

    And of course while proposed laws, regulations, and outright bans will most often not have prevented what they purport to address, you have to have steps toward your ultimate goal. Do not doubt for a second that the real agenda has anything to do with "common sense" or "reasonable;" Progressivism demands that we strive not a toward a static goal but an increasingly better and more just world; notions of what is right and wrong thus evolve; today's crime against humanity is tomorrows historical stepping stone, and such things will if successful be increasingly nuanced for the next generation. If you don't believe that just what is "racism" or "sexism" today as opposed to 25 years ago?

    The real goal, if they are honest about it, is not an "Australian" model of enforced confiscation; it would to far beyond that so as to address the majority of gun deaths, being self inflicted death by one bullet.

  • Rockabilly||

    Why there outta be a law against hate !!!

    Disarm the hate and everything will be ok!

  • Longtobefree||

    Unless the federal government love us so much that it mandates we love broccoli, and everyone except the California elites dies of starvation.

  • Longtobefree||

    Those are a hateful bunch of posters asking that the bill of rights be decimated.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    But I'm almost certain that their intentions are good; which is a good reason to never take them for granted.

  • Curt||

    "The gun-control advocates pretend that legal methods are the only way to obtain firearms, but we know that is not true. People have always been able to obtain guns through illegal channels... Black markets thrive whenever products are prohibited.

    But the black market—by definition—is already illegal."

    Sorry, but there's plenty to disagree with gun controllers about; there's no need to complete ignore the point of their argument. The argument that they're making isn't that black market guns would cease to exist under their laws. They're saying that legal accountability for guns would reduce the number that make it to black market. If cops find a glock 19 with serial number XYZ123 used in a crime, they could track that serial number's purchase and find out it was sold to John Smith. Then, John Smith better have a record of who he sold it to or a police report of when he reported it stolen.

  • Curt||

    There are plenty of problems with this concept. But it doesn't help to pretend like it doesn't exist and their policies are complete non-sequiturs. The concepts have serious logical failings and lots of unintended (or intended) consequences.

    Simply ignoring their arguments instead of pointing out the flaws doesn't help.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    The vast majority of US crime guns are stolen, so all that would do is cause a lot of people to be arrested for failing to report the theft in a timely enough manner. And cause a lot of "straw purchasers" who had no idea what they were straw-purchasing for to be branded as accessories to murder.

    But sure, it would close the margins a bit: until over-border supply of foreign guns, or domestic illicit manufacture, catches up, that is. And America has a lot more in common with Brazil than Australia when it comes to smuggling (not to mention Australia is hardly free of it).

    The utility of such a system for enabling a confiscation, however, is more than enough argument to oppose it with all we have. Just as, of course, E-verify, national voter IDs, and every other database must be.

  • Curt||

    Yep... these are the points that need to be addressed. Too often, the arguments from the gun controllers are dismissed as though there is nothing behind it. There are concepts behind their argument... concepts that need to have their flaws publicly pointed out; instead of ignored. When they're ignored, the controllers take that as proof that gun rights people are simply scared of the issue and therefore avoiding it.

    There are a lot more problems with the concept than what you mention, but when you throw these at a controller, they've often never heard those arguments.

    The other problem is that when it comes to things like enabling confiscation, they'll pay lip-service to not wanting to do that. But, generally they truly see that as a feature not a bug. They're just setting up for the next play.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    What are these other problems with the concept I didn't mention? I can never have enough talking points at my disposal.

    And I, too, have noticed the tendency of many pro-gunners to dismiss arguments from the other side in a way that strengthens them: I think libertarians are especially vulnerable to this, because we tend to think in terms of "natural rights", whereas the opposition thinks in utilitarian terms only. Thus in order to beat them, we have to prove that the Non-Aggression Principle is actually correct by utilitarian, statistical metrics as well; but that requires conferring legitimacy on the possibility we might be wrong, which is something no one who believes in fundamental rights likes to do.

  • p3orion||

    "The vast majority of US crime guns are stolen..."

    I'm on your side, but do you have a source for that?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I just looked it up and couldn't find the graph I once saw. The closest thing I found was an NRA graph claiming that "79% of crime guns are illegally possessed", which is probably where I got the "vast majority" claim from. In fairness, a significant plurality of those guns are likely straw purchases or suchlike, so it is probably more like 50% to 60% of US crime guns (I'm almost certain a simple majority are stolen, if nothing else), so my claim is, in retrospect, an exaggeration, at least as far as "vast" is concerned. The perils of using stats from memory...

    Of course, it is still fair to point out that that percentage would increase, from whatever it is now, in the event of restriction: studies from all over the Anglosphere confirm that theft of all sorts increases when narcotic prices on the black market go up, and it's impossible that the same effect wouldn't be seen in the US gun black market if legal supply were restricted. Even if fewer guns made it into the black market as a result, the increase in property crime, and thus criminal-citizen confrontations, would more than redress the imbalance of positive to negative outcomes.

  • flyfishnevada||

    I got plenty pissed when I found out the Air Force, and probably many other federal agencies, weren't reporting to NICS. Background checks don't work under any circumstances since generally only the law-abiding submit but now the same people that saddled us with this intrusive and Unconstitutional system aren't holding up their end?

    I guess I shouldn't have been surprised but I was. I don't blame the Air Force for the Texas shooter's actions. He would have acquired a gun in any number of other ways. But dammit if I'm not angry that I have to submit to this flawed system like some common criminal while assholes like the Texas shooter slip through the cracks.

  • Jim Macklin||

    If the goal is to reduce or prevent all together murders, arming most people and most locations is probably the most effective action.
    Banning or restricting firearms is disarming people and locations which is counterproductive.
    Mass killing can be done with drones carrying gasoline bombs to attack outdoor assemblies such as the Las Vegas show. Gasoline has also been used to kill in night clubs and gasoline can be "weaponized" by mixing with palm or coconut oil and using a garden sprayer or even just baggies.
    Firearms, arms in general, are protected by the Bill of Rights which may be the reason that they are attacked for political reasons that have nothing to do with crime or public safety.
    Many scholars and jurists have written on the need for arms including Justice Scalia in the HELLER case but I will paraphrase the Second Amendment to help make it plain.
    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state? [Yes, therefore]
    "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "Mass killing can be done with drones carrying gasoline bombs to attack outdoor assemblies such as the Las Vegas show. Gasoline has also been used to kill in night clubs and gasoline can be "weaponized" by mixing with palm or coconut oil and using a garden sprayer or even just baggies."

    Well, hadn't thought of that one before. On a related note, he also could've used one of his private planes to crash into the crowd. Or a truck, or a dump truck filled with KClO3, or...

  • MaleMatters||

    Good commentary so far as it goes. But, Sheldon, stop thinking "mass shooters." See what I mean in:

    "Gun Control and Mass Killers"
    https://relevantmatters.wordpress.com/
    2016/06/30/rush-draft-why-gun
    -control-fails-against-mass-killers/

    Join the link.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online