How often does banning things actually work?
With abortion, for instance, it’s argued that we can’t go back to a pre-Roe paradigm because women would still seek abortions, but would not be able to access them safely. We argue that this is justification for abortion remaining legal — the negative externalities of outlawing it would outweigh all else. Even as a pro-life libertarian, I find this argument deeply compelling. As morally wrong and rights-violating as I may believe abortion to be, the negative effects of banning it could conceivably outweigh the positive impact of ending the practice.
Outlawing substances like marijuana, cocaine, and LSD has been disastrous for similar reasons, and these laws have not even come close to achieving the intended goal of eradicating drug use. Just look on the internet, on any college campus, in your neighbor’s house, or in your teenager’s bedroom, and you’ll realize that simply making these substances illegal has not eradicated them from our culture or dissuaded those most interested from using them.
Most people on the left understand this argument when it’s about abortion or the Drug War. But when the topic at hand is firearms, all that understanding burns away in the fires of self-righteous hysteria. The intellectual inconsistency is astounding.
If guns were banned, or if harsher gun control policies were implemented, would all guns suddenly disappear from the streets? Of course not. Would those who want to ban guns, then, support a government task force or militia going around to every home in the country and gathering all those firearms up? What would they suggest to prevent a black market from emerging? Gun-control advocates’ inability to answer such questions (and the frequent refusal to even consider them) allows them to make arguments dangerously removed from reality.
In the early hours following the San Bernardino shooting, Hillary Clinton (like many other politicians) composed a tweet urging action to stop gun violence. Stopping gun violence is an immensely worthwhile goal and one that should move to the core of our cultural discourse. But gun control, often touted as a flawless, golden solution, should only be considered on the merits of what it actually accomplishes — not its ability to fulfill our vague desire to “do something.”
David Kopel, writing for Cato, notes that, “Over and over again, there are calls for common sense gun controls, such as a system of universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on assault weapons. And yet such proposals are not likely to stop a deranged person bent on murder.” Federal bans on assault rifles, he claims, have also fallen dismally flat: studies show that the ten-year ban on assault rifles (that ended in 2004) had no impact at all on reducing crime. Why do we keep pushing solutions similar to those that have already failed to keep us safe?
Those who push for gun control root their arguments in both compassion and fear — fear of more mass murders, fear of a rise in violent crime, fear that their family will be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Compassion for victims of gun-related accidents and for those who use firearms to take their own lives. But their compassion and concern doesn’t make the solutions they propose any less ridiculous.
As Reason TV points out, with certain irony, implementing widespread gun bans is easy — so long as you can pass a constitutional amendment and are okay with the onslaught that would result from sending government forces to every house across the country asking people to surrender their 2nd Amendment rights.
In the liberal view of the world, abortions would continue unabated if Roe v. Wade were repealed tomorrow. When discussing the efficacy of the war on drugs, the vibrance of the black market is readily acknowledged and used as justification for ending these destructive policies. But our flawed narrative on gun control is propagating the absurd idea that outlawing guns will be different and will definitely reduce violence, with no regard for the unintended consequences of enforcing such a ban. If our aim is to reduce the level of violence in society, we must consider what such bans can actually achieve and the effects they’re likely to have, not fall into the easy habit of reactionary regulation.
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