All Commentary
Monday, June 1, 1998

The Tyranny of Gun Control

A Collection of Useful Anti-Gun-Control Material

People are eternally prone to wishful thinking. It’s usually harmless because pipe dreams aren’t often turned into action in our private lives. When an individual knows he will bear the costs and suffer the consequences of some action, reality quickly intrudes and he asks, “Will this really produce the results I want? What will the costs really be?”

Politics, however, cuts the connection between individual action and consequences. Because “the government” takes the action and appears to bear the cost, most people don’t ask those questions. Politicians, therefore, can get away with selling snake-oil remedies; they know that most voters are suckers for grandiose plans wrapped in good intentions. People wish for solutions to problems and rarely ponder whether the proposed plans will really work and what they will cost.

That is why they keep trying to alleviate poverty with welfare and minimum-wage laws. That is why they keep trying to improve health care through socialized medicine. And that is why they keep trying to make the country safer through gun control, the subject of this new volume from the Future of Freedom Foundation. Edited by FFF president Jacob Hornberger and Hillsdale College economics professor Richard Ebeling, the book brings together 14 essays calculated to get people to think about gun control the way they would think about a home do-it-yourself project: will it work and what will it cost?

When the subject of gun control comes up, the words “Second Amendment” are rarely far behind. Opponents of gun control argue that among its many costs is the trashing of yet another section of the Constitution. Gun-control advocates wave away that argument, claiming that it wasn’t meant to guarantee an individual right to possess firearms. In one of the essays, “What the Second Amendment Means,” Freeman editor Sheldon Richman annihilates their claim. Richman demonstrates that the pro-gun-control interpretation is utterly indefensible and closes the debate with this crusher: even if you believe that the Second Amendment protects only the government’s “right” to have a militia, where else in the Constitution is there any enumerated power authorizing Congress to regulate or prohibit individual ownership of guns? There is no such grant of authority.

Another key gun-control issue is the question of its impact. Many people want so badly to reduce violence that they merely assume that gun control actually does so. This is wishful thinking at its most dangerous. Jarret Wollstein’s essay, “Will You Be Safer If Guns Are Banned?” takes on this notion. Wollstein writes, “Paradoxically, although firearms do not increase crime and violence, gun control laws do. Throughout the United States, when strict gun-control laws are passed, crime and violence get worse.” He proceeds to support his contention with evidence drawn from many different parts of the nation.

In another excellent essay, “The Assault Weapons Scam,” James Bovard exposes the intellectual dishonesty in the anti-gun lobby’s manufactured hysteria over “assault rifles.” In politics, labels and perceptions are far more potent than reality. Knowing this, gun-control advocates invented the meaningless term assault rifle. The vagueness of the resulting statutes has given officials, as Bovard writes, “arbitrary power to pick and choose which guns to ban and which gun owners to arrest and imprison.” So-called assault rifles are virtually never used in crimes (and of course, the law won’t do anything to prevent a determined criminal from getting and using one if he really wants to), but this episode has allowed a great expansion of government power over nonviolent gun owners.

Looking at history is often an antidote for wishful thinking, and Benedict LaRosa’s splendid “Gun Control: A Historical Perspective” provides a potent tonic. Gun control (or, going back far into history as LaRosa does, weapons control) has been a favored policy of rulers who want a meek, compliant populace under their control. He includes an examination of Switzerland, where gun ownership is nearly universal. “The Swiss do not have an army—they are the army,” one official Swiss publication proudly says. Despite the fact that Switzerland bristles with privately owned firearms of all kinds, gun-related violence is far lower there than in most nations with draconian gun laws.

This is just a sampling of the useful anti-gun-control material in this book. I only wish that there were more of it. An essay exploring why policies to punish wrongdoing are necessarily superior to policies intended to prevent it would have been a good addition. Still, if you want to be well armed in the battle against those who would prevent you from owning firearms, this is an excellent book to have around.

  • George Leef is the former book review editor of The Freeman. He is director of research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

  • Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.