Recently received an email from someone who is in favor of “reasonable” restrictions on the right to buy, own, and carry firearms. The person wanted to know if I would support these restrictions, too, or if I would be as “dogmatic and inflexible” as others in the pro-rights movement have been. Here’s how I answered.
I’m afraid you would find me on the “dogmatic and inflexible” side of the aisle. Why? Because I believe self defense is a human right — the most basic of all human rights, in fact. This means I am not in favor of any government program that has a chilling effect on an ordinary person’s ability to exercise the basic human right to effective self defense.
Like you, I want safer families and safer communities. Like you, I think it is appalling when bad people use firearms to do bad things. And like you, I want to see lower rates of violent crime and higher rates of good people staying safe. That is why I am a strong supporter of liberal laws in the area of concealed carry, and it’s why I am in favor of laws that improve the ability of ordinary people to protect themselves wherever they go. It’s also why I support the freedom to purchase and own firearms without a lot of bureaucratic tangles. Because I want good people to be safer, I support laws that make it easy for good people to protect themselves from violent crime.
To get an idea how the two factors in the above paragraph might be connected, I suggest visiting two types of sources to do your own research. (Don’t just take my word for it; I might be mistaken or untruthfully biased).
The first type of information you might seek out would be how concealed-carry laws have changed over the past two or three decades. There’s a wonderful visual about that at http://www.gun-nuttery.com/rtc.php, where a little poking around the site will reveal the creator’s data sources so you can judge their quality for yourself. Of course you can find the dry numbers from other places as well, including government sources. You might also look for information that would tell you the number and percentage of gun-owning families in America over the past several decades, and whether there are more guns, more widely available, than there were before. Again, you can get this type of information from pro-gun sources, from anti-gun sources, or from mostly-neutral sources. Although interpretations will differ based on the type of source you use, the hard numbers in all cases will show that there are a lot of guns in circulation and that there has been a huge increase in firearms purchases over the past few years.
The second type of information you might look for would be a record of what violent crime has been doing over the same years. You can find those numbers on the FBI or DOJ websites, including the Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs) from the FBI. As you will discover, violent crime rates have gone down sharply at the same time concealed-carry laws have become more liberal.
Taken together, these two factors — the rise in the number of gun owners with carry permits, and the drop in violent crime — mean that more people carrying firearms in more places has been closely correlated with lower crime and fewer deaths. A short spike in high-profile, negative events does not change this reality.
Like you, I want to see safer communities. Thus, I am not a fan of strict licensing laws or more restrictions on how one may purchase firearms or where one may carry them. This is not because I want guns in the hands of criminals. I don’t. Instead, it is because I do not want bureaucratic bottlenecks through which basic human rights must squeeze.
Do you know that the wait for permission simply to own a firearm takes over one and a half years in some counties in New York state? Do you know that some of the recent proposals to encourage “responsible gun ownership” will cost each gun owner thousands of dollars every year? It is easy to say, “Well, yes, but we should regulate x or control y, without creating bad results like that.” But the reality on the ground says otherwise. All too often, restrictions on gun purchases simply mean that people of the right color and socio-economic class may buy guns, while people outside those categories may not. It happens often that people with good political connections (such as celebrities) may get them, while people without connections have a harder time.
In some areas, ordinary people of the wrong color, people who live in the wrong neighborhood and have the wrong kind of job — well, those folks are out of luck, and cannot legally own effective tools they might use to protect themselves and their families. They are priced out of the concealed carry market by abuses of “may issue” laws, or by the cost and difficulty of meeting the law’s training requirements, or by high bureaucratic fees. A fee that seems reasonable to a middle-class individual often falls far outside the reach of someone below the poverty line. A training requirement that can be easily met by someone with a high-status, 9 to 5 weekday job might be utterly impossible for a single parent working erratic hours at a low-status job. To put it bluntly, I oppose “reasonable” restrictions in this area because every law that increases the regulatory burden on good people, also creates unavoidable racist and classist effects in actual use.
The unfortunate reality is that there is no way to guarantee complete safety in a free society. Crimes will continue to happen, no matter what we do. Violent crime will happen, and sometimes good people will die as a result of that. That stinks. But here’s the kicker: making our society less free is one way to feel safer while reducing our actual safety. When we create laws that make it harder for good people to protect themselves from violent crime, more good people will die as a result of violent crime.
“Reasonable” restrictions on basic human rights often have the effect of making our families and our communities less safe. That is why I oppose all such restrictions.