On Gun Control
Gun control is one of many public policies that sounds great at first, but fails on closer inspection (and often in practice). The theory is simple: if the government controls private citizens’ access to firearms (and, in general, other weapons such as hunting knives) then crimes involving firearms will be reduced and a safer society will result. Obviously, it makes sense for the government to deny access to firearms for certain private citizens (e.g. violent criminals, who have already shown a propensity to commit violence and thus cannot be trusted with firearms) and deny all private citizens access to certain firearms (e.g. certain military-grade firearms, which are unnecessarily powerful for a private citizen’s self defense). However, gun control can easily become overly restrictive to the point that it creates a more dangerous society.
First, consider gun control from an abstract point of view. One can divide all private citizens into two groups: those who are willing to commit violent crimes (call this group V for violent) and those who are not (call this group N for nonviolent). Gun control targets group V since providing members of this group with firearms can make any violent crime they commit more deadly. Denying members of the second group access to firearms is unnecessary since members of this group will not commit violent crimes — whether they have access to firearms or not — by definition. Let us now divide all private citizens into two different groups: those who are willing to disobey gun control laws (call this group C for criminals) and those who are not (call this group L for lawful). Every private citizen is either a member of V or N, and every private citizen is also a member of C or L. Ideally, every private citizen is a member of N and L (call this subgroup NL). However, there will inevitably be some members of the worst combination (V and C, or subgroup VC), which gun control can only hinder by making it more difficult for them to acquire firearms. Gun control is effective on but functionally unnecessary for members of subgroup NC (these citizens may illegally acquire firearms, but are unwilling to use them to commit violent crimes and thus pose minimal danger). Virtually no one is a member of subgroup VL (who is willing to commit a far more serious violent crime but is unwilling to illegally obtain a firearm?) so gun control (or lack thereof) makes no difference in this case. One can therefore focus only on members of VC versus members of NL.
Without any gun control the distinction between groups C and L disappears, so that all citizens are simply either in V or N. In this situation, members of N are free to arm themselves for self defense against members of V. Now add gun control: members of NL are either completely disarmed (if the gun control laws deny them access to all firearms, or if the process of legally obtaining a firearm is too much of a hassle) or are only armed with legal firearms (which may be less effective against more powerful, illegally obtained firearms), whereas members of VC are only hindered in their ability to obtain firearms. If this hindrance was completely effective so that all members of VC are disarmed as well as members of NL then gun control would work.
However, this hindrance is clearly ineffective as evidenced by massacres occurring in “gun-free zones” like schools or in places with very strict gun control laws. These massacres include the Columbine High School massacre, the Virginia Tech massacre, and the attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. In all cases, gun control laws (not to mention felonies like murder) were violated — the Columbine High School perpetrators were too young to buy weapons and were not permitted to bring them on campus, Virginia Tech banned people — even with concealed carry permits — from bringing guns on campus, and Norway has strict gun control laws (for example, firearms can only be obtained for certain reasons like hunting and not simply for self-defense, and Norwegians cannot carry concealed firearms). The failure of gun control laws in these cases is likely not limited to a simple failure to prevent the perpetrators (members of VC) from obtaining firearms, since the gun control laws additionally prevented the victims (members of NL) from potentially obtaining their own firearms to defend themselves. These victims number 13 dead (not including the two perpetrators) and 24 injured at Columbine, 32 dead (not including the perpetrator) and 25 injured at Virginia Tech, and 69 dead and 66 injured at Utøya, Norway (where Anders Breivik used his firearms, rather than his bomb in Oslo, to kill his victims). It’s unlikely many of the victims at Columbine would have been able to arm themselves anyway (since most of the victims were underage), but imagine if any of the victims or bystanders at Virginia Tech or Norway had been permitted to carry firearms and were armed. Several Virginia Tech victims died trying to barricade doors to prevent the shooter from entering classrooms, yet if any had been armed they could have shot back until police arrived. The police didn’t stop the Virginia Tech shooter, either — he killed himself. The police did manage to arrest the Norway shooter, but not until nearly ninety minutes after Breivik started shooting. During that ninety minute interval before the police arrived and Breivik was able to attack freely, a number of vacationers rescued dozens of people under attack and many people tried to hide from Breivik until the police arrived. But if just one of those rescuers or one of the people hiding had been armed with a gun to subdue or kill Breivik, how much more quickly could the attack have been ended and how many more lives would have been saved?
Armed citizens using their firearms in self-defense have stopped many violent crimes — everything from armed robbery to attempted massacres. Firearms allow physically weaker individuals to defend themselves against physically stronger and/or armed violent criminals, as was the case when a 69 year old woman shot and injured an 18 year old home invader. They allow law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from crime, as a pizza delivery driver did when he shot and killed two convicted felons who were attempting to rob him (after he had been robbed twice before). More directly related to the Virginia Tech massacre, two law school students stopped a shooting spree by retrieving their firearms from their cars and subduing the perpetrator (notice, however, that the CNN report on this crime makes no mention of the fact that the perpetrator was subdued with the help of firearms).
It is clear, therefore, that gun control cannot possibly protect members of NL from members of VC (since the latter cannot be completely hindered from obtaining firearms) and should not prevent members of NL from arming themselves for self-defense and to protect themselves from members of VC. The solution is to have minimal gun control laws that prevent members of VC from easily obtaining firearms while allowing members of NL to easily obtain their own firearms and carry them concealed (so that a member of VC engaging in a violent crime cannot easily identify and simply kill the armed members of NL first). One might object to the higher number of firearms that would almost certainly be carried under minimal gun control laws than under stricter laws, but one must remember that most of the additional firearms would be carried by members of NL. These individuals, by definition, will not engage in violent crime with their weapons. The only time their weapons will be used against humans will be in response to a violent crime under commission by a member of VC. In fact, it is beneficial for these members of NL (and even NC) to be able to carry their own firearms, as this acts as a deterrent against violent crime — members of VC must consider the risk that they will be shot by their potential victims when they attempt to commit a crime and may decide not to commit the violent crime after all. And if they decide to commit a violent crime after all, they are more likely to be stopped by armed members of NL.
A reasonable framework of gun control laws, therefore, would be:
- Convicted felons, minors, and mentally unstable persons are forbidden from purchasing and owning a firearm. The government should provide a database of felons and mentally unstable persons for gun stores to check that potential buyers may legally purchase a firearm.
- All private citizens are forbidden from owning weapons which have no use for self-defense (e.g. rocket launchers, explosive mines, etc.). All weapons which can be used for self-defense may be owned by anyone except those listed in (1). Since the job of a police force is to protect private citizens, any weapons available to the police are available to private citizens.
- Any weapon except those listed in (2) may be owned by any private citizen except those listed in (1) whether for self-defense, hunting, etc.
- Legal weapons owned by a private citizen may be carried concealed, without a special permit for doing so.
- The government shall not deny private citizens the ability to carry legal weapons on government premises, except where armed guards are present on site to provide protection. If the government chooses not to protect private citizens on government property, then private citizens must be able to protect themselves.
Additional gun control laws dealing with more specific situations would likely be necessary, but the above set provides a baseline for reasonable gun control laws. Unreasonable and illogical gun control laws which should not be implemented include:
- Restrictions on weapon caliber, magazine size, etc.
- “Gun-free zones” in areas that do not have an armed security presence. For buildings where private citizens are not permitted to carry personal firearms, armed security must be present in the building at all times (a university campus police force, for example, is insufficient security for an entire campus, unless officers are posted in every campus building).
- Restrictions on one’s ability to carry a concealed firearm.
- Restricting one’s ability to carry a firearm outside the home.
- Restrictions on the number of firearms one person may own.
Again, the above is not an exhaustive list but rather provides some examples of illogical laws.
Gun control cannot possibly eliminate access to firearms for violent individuals, so the purpose of gun control should be to reduce access to firearms for violent individuals while simultaneously providing access to firearms for non-violent individuals to protect themselves. Attempts to eliminate access for violent individuals are doomed to failure, and will only doom the non-violent individuals who are stripped of their ability to defend themselves.