4 years, 4 months ago
In a well-intentioned article, Megan McArdle argues against Dianne Feinstein’s proposed new assault weapons ban this way.
There’s little evidence that the assault weapons ban achieved its ostensible purpose of making America safer; we did not see the predicted spike in crime when it expired in 2004. That’s not really surprising, because long guns aren’t used in the majority of gun crimes, and “assault weapon” is a largely cosmetic rather than functional description; the guns that were taken off the street were not noticeably more lethal than the ones that remained. It was a largely symbolic law that made proponents of gun control feel good about “doing something”.
But we should not have largely symbolic laws that require real and large regulatory interventions. There should always be a presumption in favor of economic liberty, as there is with other liberties; to justify curtailing them, we need a benefit more tangible than warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of American liberals. But that is not the only reason that we should oppose ineffective, or marginally effective, regulations. There’s also an important question of government and social capacity.
Every regulation you pass has a substantial non-monetary cost. Implementing it and overseeing that implementation absorbs some of the attention of legislators and agency heads, a finite resource. It also increases the complexity of the regulatory code, and as the complexity increases, so does uncertainty.
Similarly, the Florida Assault Weapons Commission found no evidence of increased danger to the people of Florida from any specific kind of weapon. But while the sentiment of McArdle’s commentary is laudable, the theme and thrust of the argument is not.
In Virginia, crime rates have continued to drop as gun sales soar.
Gun-related violent crime in Virginia has dropped steadily over the past six years as the sale of firearms has soared to a new record, according to an analysis of state crime data with state records of gun sales.
The total number of firearms purchased in Virginia increased 73 percent from 2006 to 2011. When state population increases are factored in, gun purchases per 100,000 Virginians rose 63 percent.
But the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent over that period, and when adjusted for population, gun-related offenses dropped more than 27 percent, from 79 crimes per 100,000 in 2006 to 57 crimes in 2011.
The numbers appear to contradict a long-running popular narrative that more guns cause more violent crime, said Virginia Commonwealth University professor Thomas R. Baker, who compared Virginia crime data for those years with gun-dealer sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“While there is a wealth of academic literature attempting to demonstrate the relationship between guns and crime, a very simple and intuitive demonstration of the numbers seems to point away from the premise that more guns leads to more crime, at least in Virginia,” said Baker, who specializes in research methods and criminology theory and has an interest in gun issues.
The ownership of weapons neither causes increased violence nor enables would-be offenders. What McArdle misses here is that lethality isn’t the point. Utility is the point. Over the Thanksgiving Holidays I shot a 0.27 bolt action rifle with nice glass. The design is intended for target shooting or deer hunting, but not (per se) home or personal defense. The round is nice, and I like the lack of recoil compared to 7.62 mm or other .30 variants, but my AR’s sweet 5.56 mm round with its high capacity magazine makes it my weapon of choice for personal defense, or one of my several handguns with high capacity magazines if they are what I happen to be carrying or holding at the time.
Leaving aside Hamilton’s argument in Federalist No. 28 (which would only serve to strengthen my point), it is unwise to argue that the stipulations of the assault weapons ban are merely cosmetic or incidental. Any weapon that has a detachable magazine that contains more than ten rounds is considered to be an assault weapon, and this includes handguns. Now, it’s important at this point to rehearse the recent example of Stephen Bayezes of South Carolina.
A North Augusta gun store owner used a semi-automatic weapon when he opened fire on three men who broke into his business early Thursday, killing one and sending two others to the hospital with gunshot wounds, officials said.
The break-in occurred around 4 a.m. at the Guns and Ammo Gunsmith, located on Edgefield Road in North Augusta, said Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Feemster, a spokesman for the agency.
Stephen Bayazes Jr., 57, who lives in an attached apartment in the rear of the business with his wife, said he awoke to a loud bang and the silent store alarm going off.
Police said he got out of bed, grabbed his AR-15 weapon and found three men inside the store.
The men crashed a vehicle into the business and were smashing display cases and taking guns when he said he heard one of the men shout, “kill that (expletive deleted ).”
He told investigators he emptied a .223-caliber 30-round magazine and then retreated to his room to reload.
When he returned, he said he saw the vehicle pulling out from the business.
Note again. He emptied a 30-round magazine and then had to go for another. In Do We Have A Constitutional Right To Own An AR?, I have also noted 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-man home invasions all over the country that could have been stopped with weapons and high capacity magazines. Unfortunately, Mr. Bayazes’ experience isn’t unique.
The utility of a light recoil weapon firing with a high capacity magazine saved his life. It is immoral to relegate any law abiding citizen to the use of a weapon that doesn’t have the features he needs to defend himself or his family. But for Feinstein it isn’t about self defense or morality. Nor is it important to her that Virginia statistics don’t lend support for the notion that her proposed controls would reduce crime (Here the point isn’t about correlation and causation. In order to demonstrate that gun control achieves its “purported” purpose, one must find evidence that it reduces crime, and it is the absence of this evidence that is remarkable).
Gun control at its root has always been about gun control. Feinstein is a statist, and her laws and regulations will always and forever increase the power of the state. Feinstein sees through McArdle’s argument on cosmetics, which is why her proposed ban includes semi-automatic weapons. There isn’t anything cosmetic about the aims of the gun control advocates.
Arguing that their bans don’t adequately distinguish between weapons leads them to refine their ban. Arguing that there is equivalent lethality between weapons denies aspects of utility and design, and only causes them to ban weapons that have specific utility for home and self defense. And arguing that their regulations were ineffective only embarrasses them to pass even more onerous ones.
The correct way to argue against Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban is to argue that there is no constitutional basis for such a ban, and any new assault weapons ban would be at least as immoral and obscene as the last one was.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the attention.
UPDATE #2: Thanks to Michael Bane for the attention.
UPDATE #3: Thanks to David Codrea for the attention.
UPDATE #4: Thanks to Mike Vanderboegh for the attention.