“If the Virginia killer did not have easy access to guns, if his scheme for murdering his former colleagues had to be accomplished with knives, hammers, or a home-made explosive device, the truth is that those murders would have been much less likely to occur.” So writes Michael Brendan Dougherty at theweek.com. The conservative case for reforming America’s sick gun culture is a shambolic editorial that wants its armed IRA and gun control in America too. But Dougherty’s central argument – that the average American shouldn’t have “easy access” to guns – is making the rounds in the post-live-TV shooting in Roanoke. Let me say this about that . . .
First, let’s define “access” as the ability to purchase or otherwise acquire a firearm. Hang on. Those are two very different things. You can tax and regulate the living snot out of a firearm purchased from a licensed firearms dealer – just ask anyone in New York trying to buy a new handgun). Not that you should. Not that it would reduce criminal access to firearms. But how to do you stop someone from “easily accessing” a gun by a private sale or theft (although stealing isn’t all that easy)? I know! You make a private gun sale to a prohibited person a crime. You make stealing a gun a crime.
Yes, well, both of those popular means of firearms access are already crimes. They are also two very different things. Theft first . . .
Guns are extremely popular amongst criminals and crazies. Apprehending people who steal firearms and removing them from society or reforming them (good luck with that) is the only way to dramatically reduce the activity. Sure, legislators can legally force gun owners to secure their firearms against theft. But there’s no evidence that so-called safe storage laws have the slightest impact on gun theft, and they raise issues of safety and government inspections.
In short, gun theft is a law enforcement problem. As for private gun sales . . .
Private gun sales divide into deals between legal gun owners and sales to and between illegal gun owners. If you pass a law mandating universal background checks – all private sales have to go through a licensed gun dealer for a background check – you add to the cost, complexity and efficiency of legal gun sales. Note: legal gun sales. Criminals engaging in illegal gun sales will simply ignore the law. Why wouldn’t they?
That’s no small point. The vast majority of private sales are perfectly legal and create no criminal activity whatsoever. Any and all attempts to eliminate “easy access” to guns by regulating private sales will have no impact on criminal access to firearms, but they will make it more difficult for Americans – especially low-income Americans – to exercise their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Enormous cost, zero benefit.
Gun control advocates would argue otherwise. They believe that all private gun buyers are potential criminals, murderers or suicides. In a sense that’s true. But not in any important statistical sense. We’re talking about thirty thousands firearms-related deaths (including suicides) per year out of a population of some 150 million armed Americans. Most firearms-related crimes are committed by people with criminal records; you can round down to zero the percentage of legal gun owners who commit firearms-related crimes or commit suicide.
Undaunted, the antis operate under the assumption that making it harder for everyone to buy a gun privately reduces the risk of anyone using a gun to commit a crime or kill themselves (although they don’t seem overly bothered about firearms-related suicides). Again, there’s no hard evidence to suggest that’s true and plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate that it’s not (e.g. , firearms-related homicide rates in cities with draconian gun control). And again, all gun control laws limit citizens’ ability to exercise gun rights and infringe upon the Second Amendment.
Not to put too fine a point on it, gun control advocates’ call to “limit easy access to guns” is a ruse. What they’re really want to do “limit access to guns.” Put it this way: the opposite of easy is difficult. How difficult do the antis want the gun acquisition process to be? As difficult as possible. Or, to put it bluntly, as close to impossible as possible. We know this because gun control advocates favor all gun control laws reducing citizens’ ability acquire a gun – whether it’s by taxation, training or licensing, They call every single proposal a “common sense measure to reduce gun violence.”
Taken to its logical conclusion, “limiting easy access to guns” means eliminating all access to guns – save firearms for the military and police. That’s not the world that the Founding Father envisioned when they ratified the Second Amendment. Nor is it a vision that any life- and liberty-loving American would support.
One more thing: if Vester Flanagan hadn’t purchased a firearm legally, common sense says he would have acquired one illegally. If he’d been “forced” to use a “home made explosive device” instead of a gun, as Michael Brendan Dougherty suggest, odds are the failed reporter would have blown-up the entire TV station that hired him.