Guns: Good Policy versus Good Law

by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer

Whenever there is a debate about a controversial law, the discussion tends to center around the question of whether the law promotes a good policy. The problem with this is that while most laws do promote good policies, they also promote bad ones at the same time. The unforeseen consequences, do not become known until the policy is so deeply embedded that the only way to correct it is to pass yet another law, risking yet more unforeseen consequences.

A well known example of this is the body of laws restricting gun ownership and the right to carry firearms.

These laws promote a laudable policy – the policy of reducing gun violence in our society. Every time there is a major incident involving murder by gunshot, there is an outcry for “tougher gun laws.”

However, we already have the toughest gun law imaginable. It is the Second Amendment, which states that an armed militia is necessary to the security of a free state, and therefore, the right of the people – emphasis on the word, people, as opposed to government – to keep arms, and to bear them, is not to be infringed.

Many people on the left have attempted to twist the words of the Second Amendment to mean that a well-regulated militia translates to a ‘government-regulated militia.’ The word “regulated,” in colonial times, meant skilled, not restricted.

The militia was not an arm of the government, but an association of private citizens. The security of a free state did not mean more powerful government, but less.

President John F Kennedy exhibited a keen understanding of the Second Amendment, when he said the following:

“Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.”

These are not the words of a man who thought it a legitimate activity of the government to confiscate weapons from the public at large. While Pres. Kennedy was, indeed, killed by a firearm, there is a plausible argument that he was murdered by the very government that he sought to limit, and perhaps for that very reason he was assassinated.

What about other murders, especially mass murders? Would those not be reduced by eliminating the private ownership of guns?

At first, that would seem to be the case. Certainly, specific anecdotes seem to bear that out, but a closer look at the facts reveals the opposite to be true. Here is a specific case:

On April 16, 2007, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (better known as Virginia Tech), 32 people were killed by one man with a gun. Thirty-two! If only the killer had not been able to get his hands on a gun, those murders could have been prevented. Does not this make a strong case for outlawing the private possession of guns?

It makes the opposite case. Seung-Hui Cho, the killer, chose his venue carefully. He did not walk into a police station to kill. Indeed, he did not even go into a city street. No, he avoided any place where his potential victims might be armed, and able to fight back. Instead, he chose the college campus where he was a student because he knew that campus regulations prohibited anyone except police from carrying fire-arms on the property. In short, he had a ready-made shooting gallery.

How did our government respond? Was it to come to the logical conclusion that armed, law-abiding students could have saved many lives? Not at all. The response was to call for stronger controls on gun possession. Indeed, the call was for disarming even more future victims.

The 32 victims at Virginia Tech are part of the statistical support for violating the Second Amendment. But what of the several hundred, perhaps several thousand victims who never became victims, because they, or someone nearby, either possessed fire-arms, or were in a situation where a would-be murderer had an expectation that he would be shot himself if he tried to use a fire-arm illegally?

Those who do not become victims are not counted in the statistics. The lives saved are ignored. The lives not lost are not measured.

Another anecdote about guns in schools involves my own father. He was born in 1913, and beginning in about 1919 began attending public schools in rural Florida, which at that time closely resembled the wild west. My father carried a gun to school. So did most of the boys. Many of them walked more than a mile to get to school, and on the way home, took the opportunity to put some meat on the family table, due to the abundance of wild game in the area. Sometimes these boys, being boys, would get into fist-fights. The fight would often end with one boy on the ground with a bloody nose or black eye. He would say “uncle,” and get up. The boys would then pick up their guns, and proceed home. Not a shot was ever fired. Moreover, and this is the most vital thing to understand, not one of the boys ever remotely considered using his gun against a fellow student. It was unthinkable.

If gun ownership is the cause of violence, then the 1920s should have had mass murders in schools every day. In those days, the most notorious mass murder was that of the seven gangsters killed by rival gangsters in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Seven, not seventy.

Why were there no mass murders in schools in the 1920s? It was the culture, not the guns.

What about Switzerland, one of the most peaceful nations on the face of the earth? Surely it must be because they have a total ban on guns, right?

Not quite. Virtually every home in Switzerland is required by law to keep and maintain guns, as a military obligation, and most of those are the much vilified assault rifles.Yet Switzerland has had no mass murders on the scale of those in the US – not in spite of, but probably because of this policy.

According to Time Magazine,[1] hardly a ‘right-wing rag,’ “Switzerland trails behind only the U.S, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita; between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in a country of only 8 million people. Yet, despite the prevalence of guns, the violent-crime rate is low: government figures show about 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. By comparison, the U.S rate in the same year was about five firearm killings per 100,000 people, according to a 2011 U.N. report.”

True, the United States has a very serious problem with gun violence. Something must be done about it, but that ‘something’ is not more laws. It is better social policy.

We used to have that…

[1] http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/the-swiss-difference-a-gun-culture-that-works/

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One thought on “Guns: Good Policy versus Good Law

  1. Robert – I think the Left will be surprised that you quoted JFK – his admonitions add more proof that today's Democrats bear little resemblance to those of decades past.

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