The Costs and Consequences of Gun Control

In politicizing mass murders, gun control advocates, such as President Obama, insist that more laws against firearms can enhance public safety. Over and over again, there are calls for common sense gun controls, such as a system of universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on assault weapons. And yet such proposals are not likely to stop a deranged person bent on murder.

Although universal background checks may sound appealing, the private sale of guns between strangers is a small percentage of overall gun sales. Worse, the background check bills are written so broadly that they would turn most gun owners into criminals for innocent acts — such as letting one’s sister borrow a gun for an afternoon of target shooting.

Magazine bans are acts of futility because the extant supply is enormous. Today, magazines of up to 20 rounds for handguns, and 30 rounds for rifles, are factory standard, not high-capacity, for many of the most commonly owned firearms. These magazines are popular with law-abiding Americans for the same reason they are so popular with law enforcement: because they are often the best choice for lawful defense of one’s self and others.

Gun-control advocates have been pushing for a ban on assault weapons for more than 25 years. This proposal is essentially a political gimmick that confuses people. That is because the term is an arbitrarily defined epithet. A federal ban was in place between 1994 and 2004, but Congress declined to renew it after studies showed it had no crime-reducing impact.

President Obama points to the mass confiscation of firearms in Great Britain and Australia as models for the United States. Such confiscation would be impossible, as a practical matter, in the United States, and if it were attempted, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Policymakers can take steps to make treatment available for persons with serious mental illness, and, when necessary, to incapacitate such persons if they are proven to be at grave risk of perpetrating violent crime. Better care, treatment, and stronger laws for civil commitment (consistent with constitutional safeguards) could prevent some horrific crimes.

Finally, before adding new gun regulations to the legal code, policymakers should remember that several mass murders in the U.S. were prevented because citizens used firearms against the culprit before the police arrived on the scene.

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