Those looking to expand government power and limit Americans’ freedoms and civil rights hate to let an opportunity like a global pandemic go to waste.
What history books gloss over is how both [Prohibition and the Great Depression] during the 1930s were the result of bad public policy. Alcohol prohibition incentivized organized crime, while credit expansion by the Federal Reserve led to the infamous stock market crash of 1929. Subsequent economic interventions by the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations impeded a timely recovery.
To their credit, politicians ended the absurdity of Prohibition by ratifying the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. Nonetheless, most of the great leaps forward, such as the establishment of the Social Security Act and the National Firearms Act of 1934, have stayed in place. The latter has seen other forms of federal gun legislation built on top of it in an all too predictable manner.
The ratchet effect that Robert Higgs has aptly described, whereby expansions in state power during times of emergency are rarely reversed, has been a mainstay of American politics since the Progressive Era. Considering previous episodes of American history over the last century, the present coronavirus pandemic seems like fertile ground for another instance of the ratchet effect.
Surprisingly, the attempts to use this crisis as a springboard for infringements on the right to bear arms have not been so effective. The federal government has not only shown a surprising degree of restraint, but also declared gun stores “essential” businesses at the end of March. In contrast, various state legislatures and municipalities joyfully lumped gun stores in with other “nonessential” businesses in their shutdown measures. Nothing says “equality” like dishing out equal misery via administrative fiat.