My first observation is that people who are pro-gun-control and people who are anti-gun-control often argue past each other because they are answering different questions. This is a big part of the reason that they can all shout so loudly without ever convincing anyone.
There are several questions that are similar enough so that debaters can get confused about whether they are talking about the same thing. First I address a sadly cynical question, the question asked by too many politicians. Second is the serious Democrat question, followed by the serious Republican question. I finish with the reason why all these questions are now irrelevant.
Cynical Politician's question
Let's get the cynical question out of the way. None of you readers has this as their question -- this is a question politicians ask, not real people. I would skip it, but it allows me to make a couple of interesting points. This sad politician's question is, "How do we make ourselves feel good about ourselves when these horrific atrocities appear in the news?" For this question, supporting gun control is a big win, you can feel good knowing you tried your best. Note that the normal gun control proposals touted in the wake of tragedy would have no actual impact. Hillary is a big fan of banning the sale of Feinstein rifles, i.e., rifles that look like assault rifles, but which are not half as lethal as the real thing (real assault rifles have been illegal since the 1920s, before the term "assault rifle" even existed; the ban on real assault rifles has worked very well, but only since the other critical legal change, the end of Prohibition, went into effect). The problem with banning Feinstein rifles is, there are plenty of weapons just as lethal that don't look like it. I myself own a rifle with 2 stocks, a standard hunting stock and a folding stock. If I slap on the folding stock, it is a Feinstein rifle. If I slap on the hunting stock, it is not. Normally I use the hunting stock, but when it looks like the government is going to make it illegal to acquire a Feinstein rifle, I switch to the folding stock -- it is always legal to own the folding stock rifle and switch to the hunting stock rifle, but during Feinstein rifle bans, switching to from hunting to folding stock is legally uncertain.
So before answering the question, "will a Feinstein rifle ban actually have an effect?", you have to ask yourself the question, "will whacko nut cases who want to shoot up a nightclub decide not to do so because their guns don't look as pretty?" Hmmm....
Serious Democratic Question
Then there's the serious question, "how do we reduce the rate of violent murders?" For this question, gun control sounds like a simple part of the solution. Well... let us hypothesize for a moment you could somehow get such a huge majority of Democrats in Congress that they can pass gun laws as rigorous as the ones in England. Would that reduce violent crime? The answer is, if we had those laws in place for a couple centuries, and there were no technological changes in those centuries, it might reduce violent crime to British levels. In the near term, however, British gun laws imposed here would unleash an enormous firearms black market, as the 40% of the population that thinks they have a Right, granted by the Founders of the Nation, to Bear Arms, went on a defiant shopping spree. And if you think that the war against the black market in marijuana and cocaine leads to a lot of violence, wait until you see the violence unleashed when you declare war on a black market that is both bigger and much, much better armed.
What would actually work for reducing the rate of violent murders in the near term? One answer is to decriminalize marijuana, and then decriminalize cocaine. This would end the wars where gangs shoot each other for turf, killing not only each other but also innocent bystanders. Those gang wars would go into the dustbins of the history books right next to the gangs that fought for turf for selling alcohol during Prohibition.
There is another simple solution but this solution is so simple people will have trouble embracing it. This other answer is, do nothing to screw up the remarkable success we are now having. Media sensationalism to the contrary, we have experienced a relentless fall in violent crime during the whole 21st Century. That's right, violent crime is at an all time low (uh, it popped up a little bit this year, from the lowest rates on record last year). I know, it is hard to believe we live in an era of such calm against the backdrop of so much media hype of violence, isn't it? Yet it is true. We all know that the media loves the sensational story, but the thing about sensational stories is, they are sensational because they are way outside the bounds of the norm. And when you have 300 million people to choose from, you can always find a sensational psycho to report about. The deaths that make the headlines because someone shot up a high school gymnasium are terrible tragedies. But so is the death when a widowed father of two falls off a ladder. And for a delightful little statistic for those who think statistics are facts, you are less likely to be killed by a terrorist than you are to be killed by furniture. But no one ever grabs a news headline when a bookcase falls over and hits him on the head.
Serious Republican Question
People such as myself ask quite a different question. It is a question asked by the Founders of the nation, who observed that the greatest threat to our liberty would never be outside invaders. Rather, the greatest risk would always be our own government's inevitable, insidious, relentless quest for ever more power. How do we defend ourselves against the organization that necessarily holds tight to a monopoly on the power to use force and violence to uphold the law? What if our government were taken over by people who think our biggest problems are, we don't put enough people in jail without trial, we don't confiscate enough property without proof of guilt, we don't torture enough people, and we don't hate enough nor punish enough some minority group that makes up just one percent of the population? Our Founders, and those of us who agree with them, think that an armed citizenry has a key role to play, a role far more important than any possible role of gun control in an even minimally civil society.
I have noticed that when I explain this question to my left liberal friends, the most common response is, "oh, having guns wouldn't help us anyway if the government turned into a dictatorship". I confess, this casual praise of the merits of helplessness can make my blood boil: can one seriously believe that people living under the thumb of a bunch of kidnappers and torturers are better off with nothing but hopeless despair? Is it really certain to be better to let murdering thugs run mad across a whole country for decades? But, let's be honest: the truth is complicated. If the entire Army and the entire National Guard sided with the dictator, we'd be in real trouble even if we were armed. But suppose the 101st Airborne sided with the dictator, while 3rd Armored sided with the people. In that case, the preferences of armed citizens would be decisive.
The irony of course is ... whoa, it looks like we may turn the government over to a vicious narcissistic autocrat! And all the people who have guns are the ones who will vote him into office! And if he issues an executive order to postpone the following election until a time when the country is "safe", the left liberals who should be my allies in the fight for liberty will be useless, because they will have willfully left themselves unarmed!
Fifteen years ago I would have fretted about this scenario. Actually I did fret about it, since I am a futurist, and I have a long history of thinking about ironic possible futures. But take heart, the solution has already arrived.
Gun Control: A Quaint 20th Century Argument
There are forces in the universe more powerful than presidents and governments and voters. One obvious force is the laws of nature. Ludicrous governments have passed laws stating that the constant pi should simply be the number 3, but we immediately recognize that those governments are fools. Governments also pass laws intended to abolish inconvenient Laws of Economics, attacking both the Law of Supply and Demand (inconvenient for Hillary), and the Law of Comparative Advantage (inconvenient for Trump) among others. We don't instantly recognize them as fools -- our understanding of economics hangs rather loosely on our shoulders, while we have a pretty tight grasp of pi. But we do wail in pain when the Law eventually overpowers the "law" and destroys both the people who cheered the "law" and the ones who tried to stop it. Regardless, there is another force besides the laws of nature that is more powerful than government. That is the force of human progress, and ever-better technology.
One of the emerging great leaps in tech is the 3D printer. With a 3D printer you can make arbitrary objects. My favorite simple example is a perfectly seamless hollow sphere with a smaller sphere trapped inside, rattling around, all created in a single print run.
You can now buy a cheap printer for your home that makes things out of plastic; download the plans for a bicycle, and print one up. SpaceX has a very expensive printer that manufactures objects in titanium, they use it to make parts for rocket engines.
It's the beginning of another revolution. Folks who pay attention to industrial advances have been very impressed with Just-In-Time Inventory, ordering stuff just in time to go on the shelves so they don't need a big warehouse. For reasons too lengthy for this rant, just in time inventory smooths out the harsh edges in economic boom/bust cycles, an important win for a primitive (Keynesian) economy like ours. But the 3D printer takes us way beyond this, all the way to the Just In Time Virtual Factory. Suppose you have a beautiful old 1956 Thunderbird, and buy a printer to make parts for it that you just can't get anywhere else. You're delighted to get the T-Bird running, but most of the time your printer sits idle. So you hook the printer up to the web and load it with software that watches the net for manufacturing jobs to bid on. Next, a sixteen year old kid runs off a prototype gadget on his own printer and promotes the gadget on KickStarter. A massive success, he suddenly needs a factory capable of producing thousands of them. So his printer posts the job on the web, your printer submits a bid, and a thousand printers like yours in a thousand different basements win contracts to make these things. Your printer sends you an email telling you where to mail the parts, his printer sends money to your PayPal account, and PayPal sends you email telling you that you just received money.
Now that is Manufacturing.
Today, the printers cheap enough to buy for your home are frustratingly limited. But they are already good enough to build ... wait for it ... guns! Yes, you knew that, the moment it was barely possible, some wild eyed college kid would figure out how to make a gun on a printer and upload the manufacturing plans to the web. They are not great guns. But make no mistake, if a storm trooper broke down your door and threatened your family, you could kill the creep with it. And of course, this tech will only get better. When SpaceX-quality printers get down to home prices, you'll be able to roll off an AK-47 overnight.
Ah, the gun control advocate says, we'll have the government pass a law forcing printer manufacturers to embed a gun-detecting algorithm into the printer, and refuse to print it. Sorry, not possible. Consider a much simpler problem with old fashioned 2D printers. When paper printers became high resolution enough to print dollar bills, the government went wild with the desire to stop the inevitable wave of counterfeiting. They were desperate to prevent printers from printing money. This was an easy problem: there were less than a dozen designs for money, all very rigid. It should have been easy to write an algorithm for the printer to detect one of those shapes and stop it. But even though the government is much more serious about protecting its currency from counterfeiting than it is about protecting our lives from handguns, this wasn't one of the choices. They settled for making all the printers leave microscopic marks when they print that allow police to figure out, after the fact, which printer was used to make the phony bills.
Detecting the printing of a gun so you can block it is much harder. In fact, from a math perspective, it is infinitely harder: the number of possible gun designs is on the order of aleph-2 (for those of you who don't do exotic math, aleph-2 is an infinity so large that it is infinitely larger than your basic infinity). The blocker must prevent all possible gun designs from being printed; the hacker only needs to find one that is not blocked, and send the design in encrypted email to a couple thousand of his closest friends.
Folks, this Pandora's box is already open. Gun control advocates have no more chance of controlling home-brewed firearms than the Prohibitionists in the 1920s had of controlling wine fermentation in your basement. Live with it.
Last Words for the Liberal who would Defend Liberty
In an era when petty tyrants can run credible campaigns for president (yes, you and I are thinking of the same era -- the 1960s, when segregationist Democrat George Wallace almost snagged the Democratic nomination, and won electoral college votes as an independent), does it make sense for a left liberal to own a gun, just in case it is needed to defend liberty? Eeek. Owning a gun is crass and very Republican. Fortunately it is no longer necessary. Forget about buying a gun. Buy a printer.
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