Revenge of the NJ Oxymorons: Smart Gun Control

When I read the first couple of paragraphs of North New Jersey’s The Record editorial Smart Gun Control, I thought to myself “Holy smokes! They’re actually finally starting to get it!”

NEW JERSEY has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but even they cannot prevent an unstable man from opening fire and killing people. The tragic shootings last month at the Pathmark in Old Bridge remind us of that. Not that we needed reminding, because we never had a chance to forget that gun violence can crop up anywhere, regardless of the severity of the laws.

Brilliant! They’ve finally figured out that gun control doesn’t work and are going to recommend repealing all those stupid mala prohibita gun laws that are supposed to prevent crime but don’t work, right? . . .

Well no, not quite.

Even New Jersey’s comparatively tough gun laws, which prohibit the sale and possession of high-capacity semiautomatic weapons, are not strong enough. We don’t have a ready solution, but we do know that New Jersey and the nation need to have the conversation about how to better keep guns out of the hands of killers.

There’s a difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se law, especially as regards gun control. Malum prohibitum literally means wrong (or evil) because prohibited while malum in se means wrong/evil in and of itself. A good example of mala prohibita laws are those regarding so-called “assault weapons”; having a flash-hider, telescoping stock or bayonet lug isn’t something that’s wrong all by itself. Laws against shooting someone (outside of DGUs) are a good example of mala in se laws because harming someone else is obviously wrong in and of itself. Got it?

The primary purpose of mala prohibita gun laws isn’t to punish bad behavior, but to prevent it, as demonstrated by the TReb[1]’s statement that we “need to have the conversation about how to better keep guns out of the hands of killers.” When you pass laws which are primarily focused on preventing some sort of crime and they don’t work one of the “conversations” you should have is not how to make them stricter, but whether they should just be repealed.

I have often suggested that since gun control laws don’t work, they should be repealed. One of the two standard retorts I get from the antis is “well since laws against murder don’t stop all murders should we just go ahead and repeal them?” This is why I explained the difference between mala prohibita and mala in se laws; the primary purpose of laws against murder is not to prevent murders (although they do have a deterrent effect) but rather to punish people who commit them.

Most gun control laws, however, aren’t written with an eye towards punishing bad behavior but rather trying to prevent it. As I mentioned earlier, various “assault weapon” laws are good examples, as are background checks, prohibitions on felons or domestic offenders having guns, bans on concealed carry and bans on guns in certain locations (like schools, churches, government buildings, etc.); none of the proscribed items or behaviors actually cause any harm. Instead they are viewed as being precursors to criminal behavior.

The TReb continues:

So we are glad to see that New Jersey voters are in favor of tighter gun control laws while they also support the Second Amendment. It’s a sensible middle ground that we wish politicians of both parties would act on.

I’m sorry guys, there is no such thing as a “middle ground” between tighter gun control laws and the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Regardless of what percentage of the population is in favor of curbing my rights, the fact of the matter is the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility[2]. And I’m pretty sure that the laws you currently have (you know, the ones that aren’t working?) were sold as being a sensible middle ground.

That’s another problem with these mala prohibita laws; each one is pushed as being common sense and reasonable, but each one moves the end-point of the discussion. For example, not selling weapons to felons certainly seems “common sense and reasonable,” but then when that doesn’t work, gun grabbers introduce the “common sense and reasonable” background checks for all FFL sales.

When criminals still get guns, several states (like New Jersey) passed the “common sense and reasonable” restrictions on sales at gun shows. But even that’s not good enough as the Bradys and VPC have now changed their talking point from the “gun show loophole” to the “private sale loophole.” Each and every one of these infringements on that which shall not be infringed is sold as “common sense and reasonable” and each one takes us further away from our fundamental liberty. It’s called incrementalism.

When all else fails, trot out some poll numbers:

According to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 65 percent of respondents think gun control is more important than gun ownership, Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson reports. Twenty-seven percent see it the other way around. Forty-seven percent would like stricter state gun laws, 28 percent like them the way they are and 11 percent would like them to be more lax.

You can see the poll here, but it’s a non sequitur. Rights aren’t subject to beauty contests or popular sentiment. I don’t care how many people want to bring back slavery, segregation, coverture, child labor or branding as a criminal punishment but ultimately, it just doesn’t matter; fundamental liberties are not subject to opinion polls.

To continue:

Interestingly, a greater number of gun owners think the state’s gun laws should be stricter.

… More than 1 in 5 of those polled said someone in the family owned a gun.

Well of course people who already have guns are in favor of more restrictions because none of them believe the restrictions will ever affect them. One of the classic examples of this occurred in L.A. during the riots. From the May 4, 1992 issue of USA TODAY (as quoted at ammoland.com):

The rush to weapons began almost immediately after the riot’s first vivid images went out over TV.

Shopkeepers said some gun buyers were lifelong gun-control advocates, running to buy an item they thought they’d never need – only to find themselves blocked by gun-control legislation that requires Californians to wait 15 days.

Katherine von Tour also mentions this in her Gun Owners of America essay:

As the riots threatened to spill over into Beverly Hills, myriad Hollywood types stormed gun stores to arm themselves, only to be told that there was a 15-day waiting period; radio talk shows boiled with people calling in and screaming about how unfair this was, and how the law was leaving them helpless.

Some of them even admitted that they had previously supported the waiting period, and that they were now furious that it had left them unarmed.

Damn that shoe pinches when it’s on the other foot, doesn’t it? The point is, most of the people supporting these laws firmly believe that they will never be affected.

In addition, New Jersey gun ownership is hardly reflective of the national scene; the ‘more than 1 in 5 households with guns’ turns out to be 22% which is less than half of the self-reported national average of 47%.

The TReb blathers on a bit about elections, politics and politicians, and then hits us with their big finish:

People who never should have gotten their hands on a gun are murdering Americans in the public square. It’s a problem that transcends class, income and views on gun possession. It’s an American problem.

Except that, as Don Kates and Dr. Gary Mauser pointed out in their piece, Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide murder is not a uniquely American phenomenon. In fact since 1965 the Soviet Union, with extremely strict gun control and a literal police state, has had murder rates which dwarfed those of the United States. And oddly enough, as the number of states with loosening gun laws and “shall-issue” permit laws has gone up over the past two decades, our murder rate has been dropping pretty steadily.

As Kates and Mauser point out, correlation is not causation and there are many social and economic factors involved in homicide rates but the reverse correlation observed between gun “availability” and crime in so many areas of this country indicates that TReb’s simplistic “availability = massacres” postulate is all wet.

Finally, let’s look at some of our country’s other massacres:

  1. Various Locations 09/11/2001: 2,996 dead, 6,000+ injured – Box cutters
  2. Murrah Federal Building 04/19/1995: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 168 dead, 680+ injured – Bomb
  3. Dupont Plaza Hotel 12/31/1986: San Jaun, Puerto Rico 97 dead, 140 injured – Arson
  4. Happy Land Disco 03/25/1990: New York, New York 87 dead, 28 injured – Arson
  5. Bath Consolidated School 05/18/1927: Bath, Michigan 44 dead, 58 injured – Bomb

Hmm, look at that; the top 5 deadliest (non-democide) mass killings of the last century and nary a gun to be seen.

The fact of the matter is gun control laws will never eliminate this sort of violence which means the antis will always have fresh puddles of innocent blood to dance in. And as they do, they’ll call for the next “common sense and reasonable” laws to pass so the “middle ground” keeps getting smaller and smaller until there is no room left for people exercise their right to armed self defense.



[1] The Record editorial board

[2] L. Neil Smith: Letter to a Liberal Colleague