Reader Gideon Joubert writes:
We’re all now too familiar with the abhorrent event that occurred in Las Vegas last week. It’s impossible to adequately express feelings of sympathy and remorse for people who experienced something that is completely beyond our comprehension, and I won’t insult them by indulging in such empty gestures.
I also don’t believe in entertaining visceral political debate regarding gun control and dancing on the graves of the dead before the bodies have even had a chance to cool, unlike the Hillary Clintons of this world. Which is why I’m only writing about the matter now.
Understandably, the first emotional reaction of many people in the wake of such an atrocity is to demand stricter gun control legislation. And this is where we have a problem. Laws can be used to punish (or bring other consequences down upon) perpetrators of crimes after the fact. But preventing them is completely beyond the scope and power of legislation.
There isn’t a single law that could have stopped the Las Vegas spree killer from committing his wicked deeds. Just ask an expert on the subject. The law can certainly be used to bring such killers to justice, and in that manner act as some sort of deterrent. But that’s about the best we can reasonably hope for.
The reason for this is simple – criminals, and terrorists for that matter, by their very nature, don’t obey laws. Committing murder is illegal. Committing rape is illegal. Committing acts of human trafficking is illegal. The purpose of having laws to make these acts illegal isn’t to stop them from happening, it’s to punish those who commit them.
So it should hardly be surprising that criminals don’t obey gun laws either, regardless of how restrictive and onerous they may be. This is why there is no shortage of firearms in criminal hands in places like Jamaica, despite the island nation having banned civilian ownership of guns back in 1973. (They suffered a 400% increase in their homicide rate within a seven-year period as a result).
This is why France suffered three mass shootings in 2015 (resulting in 147 dead and over 390 wounded) during which the perpetrators used fully-automatic weapons, which are banned by both French and EU law. This is why Australia endured no fewer than 13 mass attacks after their 1996 National Firearms Agreement, of which five were perpetrated by use of guns.
Back home, here in sunny South Africa, we have some of the strictest gun laws in the world. In spite of this we have a murder rate of 34.27 per 100,000, which places us as the 8th most violent country in the world. There is no shortage of criminals armed with fully-automatic AK-47 or R4 rifles, as daily news reports attest.
Our incredibly strict gun laws fail to keep prohibited firearms out of criminal hands because they are incapable of doing so. In fact, corrupt police officials have actually used the firearm legislation and associated firearm amnesties to supply firearms to criminal gangs in the Western Cape.
None of this should come as a surprise. The so-called War on Drugs has been an abject failure. Possession, trafficking and use of controlled substances is highly illegal in most nations, and the penalties for being caught doing so can be incredibly severe. People have been put to death for smuggling drugs into Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
In July 2016 the Philippines began a bloody and protracted campaign by government authorities against anyone suspected of drug dealing, and the bodycount currently stands in excess of 4,000. Yet, despite this, people still illegally procure and use narcotics all over the world. If I may twist a well-known adage, “If we outlaw drugs, only outlaws will have drugs.” Prohibition does not work: it didn’t work for alcohol in the US during the 1920s, it isn’t working for drugs and it certainly won’t work for guns.
Let’s also not forget that mass-murderers don’t need guns to kill and injure scores of people. Guns weren’t used in Oklahoma in 1995. They weren’t used in Boston in 2013. Nor were they used in Nice and Berlin in 2016, or at Manchester, London Bridge, and Barcelona this year. Yet in the wake of these incidents we didn’t see governments entertain calls for truck or fertilizer control. We only seem to fixate on the object used in an attack when it happens to be a gun.
“Common sense gun control” may be a powerful clarion call for some, but only those who forget the United States actually already has that. There’s a powerful impression that the US has no system of controlling who is legally allowed to buy firearms, despite the fact that the magic of the internet allows people to easily discover that this isn’t remotely the case.
Myths around so-called “gun show loopholes” and other media-ready euphemisms get lots of airtime, almost always spouted by people who have no idea what they are talking about, and who have never gone through the process of legally acquiring a firearm. Those who actually do investigate the facts of the matter are frequently convinced to change their minds, as Leah Libresco was.
The only thing that gun control legislation achieves is to restrict law-abiding citizens from owning firearms. This in turn leaves them defenseless against the very people from whom the law cannot protect them. It’s a uniquely perverse outcome, to put it mildly.
It’s telling that there isn’t a single country on Earth where murder rates have not increased following a gun ban. So perhaps when your politicians call for more gun control, they really should be careful what they wish for.