Sunday, December 6, 2015

Law, Culture, and Gun Control

In general I am skeptical of the power of law alone to change behavior. Consider laws against drugs; experts disagree on how much they may have reduced the use of cocaine and opiates, but they certainly haven't eliminated it or even made it rare. To really change behavior requires a change in culture as well as a change in the law. You can see this in the case of drunk driving, in which a shift to tougher laws was accompanied by a big change in how most people feel about drinking, driving, and other risky behavior. And note that while drunk driving is down a lot it has certainly not disappeared.

So despite all the carnage I remain a skeptic about gun control. Even if we banned all gun sales outright all across the nation, the short-term effect would be minimal. There are about 300 million guns in private hands in America, and no power on earth could either confiscate them or keep people from selling them to each other on a black market. Millions of generally law-abiding and decent Americans believe fervently in their right to own assault rifles; are we going to throw them all in jail? Liberals like to make the argument that plans to expel 10 million illegal immigrants are draconian and ultimately unrealistic. I think the measures it would take to make it hard for Americans to buy guns would be equally draconian and unrealistic.

I also believe that rigorous gun control is a political disaster for Democrats. Last year I had a conversation with a friend of my eldest son, who came across as far to my left in economic terms, with his generation's ideas about gay rights and so on. But he doesn't vote, because "Republicans just work for Wall Street and Democrats want to take your guns."

If you want to change America's relationship with guns, working to change the law is not enough. You need to change the culture. How that might be done, I have no idea, unless a plague of heavily armed, native-born jihadists forces the issue on us.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I've said it time and again - if you actually want a total shutdown of all guns in America, the way to do it is to control the ammunition supply. More specifically, control the supply of explosive primers.

If they really want to, people can machine their own guns and handload their own ammunition with gunpowder, brass casings, and lead bullets. But explosive primers are so volatile and dangerous to produce that they can ONLY be created commercially, and a bullet is useless without one. Home brewing of primers is technically possible, but not on anything but a small scale, at great expense and extreme personal risk.

Control the production and distribution of primers, and you control the inflow of fresh ammunition to the market. Gun owners will continue to expend rounds target shooting, as is their wont to do, but with insufficient replacements it will drive up ammo scarcity and cost.

Don't cut off the supply all at once - slowly constrict it over time, imperceptibly. As prices gently rise, people will spend less on ammo, or the same amount on less ammo. With less ammo, people will shoot less often, weakening the culture of gun usage through disuse.

Also, guns themselves will drop in demand and devalue. This will reduce sales overall, and could open up possibilities like resale programs where the government quietly buys up the now spare unwanted guns and disposes of them.

Of course, that's if you're after complete disarmament in the longterm. Personally I think that might be a bit drastic, even if workable. Instead, I feel that in the short term, a few basic, sensible reforms wouldn't go amiss.

Like licensing. Make it so that owning and operating a gun is like owning and operating a car. Tax, tags, title, monthly insurance, competancy testing, periodic retesting, the works. We have all these controls on automobiles because they're dangerous, and taxes to make up for the governmental and societal costs, but we don't apply the same or tougher restrictions on actual weapons?

How about requiring psychological evaluations? How about expanded background checks? How about cracking down on handguns and making concessions for legitimate sporting weapons like longarms?

So many people try to frame the issue as an all-or-nothing affair, but there are plenty of good, sensible, implementable reforms that we could choose to enact, and that we SHOULD enact. Arguing that implementing new gun controls won't work because it's impossible to get rid of all guns overnight is fundamentally absurd and misses the point entirely.