Recently here in southern Arizona renewed calls for increased gun control have predictably begun in response to the now infamous attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (and others) in Tucson last month. The fiancé of one of the victims that was unfortunately killed during the heinous attack, Kelly O’Brien, has started lobbying state lawmakers to ban extended capacity magazines for handguns as a preventative measure to future violence of this sort (as reported by Tucson’s ABC affiliate, 8 February 2011).
This reaction should not be altogether unexpected. Past events have demonstrated that when evil people commit unthinkable acts of violence with a gun, legislative measures and lobbying are sure to quickly follow (e.g., the Brady Campaign). While any decent person can empathize with – though certainly not fully appreciate – Ms. O’Brien’s grief and frustration, such feelings are not acceptable justification for substituting logic and reason with emotional gratification in a free society of individuals that intend to remain that way.
And that is exactly what such gun control measures represent. We Americans are notoriously shortsighted and demand instant gratification in most situations, which is precisely what we achieve when we base decisions that are impactful to individual civil liberties purely on emotions. While many gun control advocates tout the need for “commons sense” gun laws (as if the United States does already possess thousands of them) common sense quite clearly demonstrates that said laws, old or new, only affect those of the populous that are willing to obey them. Such measures collectively indict the law abiding public rather than target and punish individual criminals. Does anyone honestly believe that a single person who already possesses felonious criminal intent towards another will simply change his or her mind once they realize that only ten-round magazines are legal in this state? If criminals cared as much about gun regulations and laws as much as many gun control advocates apparently think they do, the Columbine massacre would not have happened at all – Harris and Klebold violated almost twenty firearms laws when they put together their arsenal, and then added another one for good measure when they committed mass murder. I mean, this is so obvious as to be almost (tragically) comical.
As the nation with the most guns laws and regulations in history, America illustrates just how little impact more of them have on actual violent crime. Contrary to the declared message of much of the anti-gun movement, even from those who possess the best and most innocent intentions within it, reality does not support such claims otherwise. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of the mid-1990s, in part a result of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, did very little to measurably fulfill its declared intent in application. In fact, the annual violent crime rate perpetrated with weapons covered under the ban stayed virtually unchanged in America from before the ban’s implementation through the end of the decade (both rates were below 1% of total yearly homicides by the way). The need for such legislation was so rampant that the Clinton Justice Department prosecuted a whopping 8 individuals in 1997 and 1998 for violations of the ban. The sad truth is that these weapons were just scary looking, and thus had to go in the minds of some. Like so many other instances of emotional decision making, it was primarily about the instant gratification that could be derived from a certain projected image rather than the actual substance of the issue.
But for the sake of the argument, let us say we implement the ban. What happens next? Are there any people who really believe this will solve the declared problem? What happens when a person with a government-imposed ten-round magazine limitation brings two guns? What if he/she brings one but still kills or wounds ten people? Do we then cut down the capacity to six? How about when six people are killed or wounded? I think we can all see where this is going… But perhaps a better characterization is in order. Far more Americans are deprived of loved ones annually due to vehicle-related incidents than firearms-related ones. Perhaps we should consider collectively banning capacity-related design and performance elements of automobiles in response to this reality, such as maximum speeds, maximum horsepower, or maximum weights (e.g., SUVs and large pickups). Such ridiculousness is sure to eventually follow once we begin condoning such allegedly preventative rationales.
As a free citizen who desires to remain self-determinant and unbound, there is of course another bone of contention that I have with this point of view. I fundamentally reject any notion that government representatives ought to be able to do anything that its citizenry cannot. In practice such concepts breed an environment of double standards and legal elitism that is potentially fatal to the already naturally precarious relationship between a government and the willing governed. If a police officer can carry a higher capacity firearm, which presumably would remain the case despite such a proposed ban, then this would violate such a principle. Police officers certainly need the capability to defend themselves and others, but so do citizens. Do we not possess a natural and/or divine right to defend ourselves, our families, our property, and others? Of course we do, and only a truly ignorant person would assert that we can rely upon the police to realistically facilitate this for us (unless, of course, we are willing to submit to a police state).
But truly, why stop at the magazines? If we are to believe that the implement rather than the person is the root of such evils or the cause of so many shattered lives then let us institute an outright ban on all firearms in America, despite the obvious constitutional implications. If we are to suppose that limiting how much ammunition an evil person can expend has a direct correlation to public safety, then it follows that an absolute ban on all weapons would clearly eliminate such evil behavior entirely, correct? Well if one wishes to see just how effective a complete ban on firearms might be in preventing violent crime one needs only to take a close look at the near narco-state to our immediate south; or Washington D.C., where in the fifteen year span immediately following the capital’s 1976 virtual ban on handguns the homicide rate rose 200%, nearly twenty times the national rate which also rose slightly despite increases in regulation. Or one could scrutinize more controlled environments, such as prisons, where murder, rape, and violent assaults are still quite prevalent despite the complete absence of firearms. Clearly, the real problem is not the implement but the evil that resides within some members of society. To illustrate this point further, consider this: if murder were hypothetically no longer illegal in the United States how many of us would immediately run out into the street and kill someone? I feel fairly confident of what the answer is and I am also quite sure that this demonstrable aversion to evil is not something that was created in us as a result of our government making such behavior punishable by law.
Reflecting on this concept, Ms. O’Brien also spoke about the inherent need to temper rights with responsibility. On this point I agree as illustrated above. But then she compared banning extended handgun magazines to the crime of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater while relating it to the responsible exercise of free speech. This is where our momentary agreement comes to a screeching halt. First, this is an inappropriate apples-to-oranges comparison because the latter example is an individual action, whereas banning an item for production and purchase collectively preempts the judgment of the citizenry and their free exercise thereof. If this line of reasoning were morally acceptable, then we could ban people from being Muslim in order to prevent any of them from making the individual decision to engage in Islamic terrorism. Second (and most importantly), the responsibility needed to temper civil liberties is possessed, developed, and wielded solely by the individual person and cannot be issued by the government. One either conducts one’s self responsibly and morally, or one does not. Limiting access to a thing has absolutely zero bearing on this truth as the Prohibition Era and War on Drugs has so profoundly illustrated. The reality that everyone needs to recognize and embrace if our free society is to survive indefinitely is that the government cannot legislate morality, and destroys individual liberties to varying degrees whenever it tries. Lastly, I would submit that it is incredibly irresponsible for someone to seek the erosion of another’s individual rights based on an emotionally-derived theory that the factual evidence not only does not support, but outright disproves.
To be fair I do not have direct knowledge of what Ms. O’Brien’s perspective is, other than being quite obviously and understandably bereaved. But to me, she is either dangerously naïve or is nefariously politicizing a tragic event to facilitate a grander agenda. Hopefully it is the former, but this split is also true of many gun control advocates that are not tied to the recent events in Tucson that will attempt to use this incident to achieve their goals. If their agenda is to completely disarm the American people, then at least display some strength of conviction and integrity and announce this intent openly so that appropriate, informed public debate can be conducted. Otherwise, we must stop allowing our individual rights to be eroded via emotional, knee-jerk reactions before it leads to erosions of rights that even the anti-gun crowd might have some heartburn with.