09 January 2023

The limits of laws

Alcohol prohibition didn't stop millions of people from drinking. It just drove the alcohol industry underground where it was impossible to regulate, and enriched organized crime.

Our current bans on drugs and sex work don't prevent millions of people from accessing those things.  They just drive those industries underground where they are impossible to regulate, and enrich drug cartels, pimps, and human traffickers.

It's bizarre to me that anyone believes the results of banning guns or abortion would be any different.  People will get things they really want, by whatever means are necessary.  Already, abortion restrictions in red states have resulted in the development of work-arounds like abortion pills sent through the mail from blue states or even foreign countries.  Any serious effort to ban or strongly restrict gun sales would quickly lead to work-arounds appropriate to guns.  It's impossible to enforce a law on a population that mostly views it as illegitimate.  The large majority of Americans support legal abortion in most cases, and 60% of US counties are "sanctuary counties" where local authorities refuse to enforce state-level gun restrictions.

As for the existing hundreds of millions of guns in the hands of tens of millions of citizens, any real effort to confiscate them would require a gigantic totalitarian enforcement apparatus which almost nobody wants, and would still fail since many would resist violently and the government would run out of enforcers long before it put much of a dent in those hundreds of millions of guns.  Really enforcing a ban on abortion would require a similar de facto totalitarian system, and in practice many, likely most, women would still manage to evade it.

I'm not denying the importance of opposing such laws.  But legislation is not the only battleground, and any defeat there simply shifts the struggle to other arenas.

It doesn't much matter what arguments people make for or against banning guns or abortion.  In practice it's impossible.  Control freaks talk as if banning certain types of guns would actually make those types unavailable, or as if banning abortion would actually stop women and girls from having abortions.  That's just not how the real world works.


Blogger Rounder Studio Stuff said...

Then, why do countries that ban guns, that ban private ownership in various forms, all have much lower incidents of gun death than in the US?

09 January, 2023 04:56  
Anonymous NickM said...

An interesting point here is alcohol prohibition in the US turned the country from beer to spirits. If you are gonna smuggle booze there is no point smuggling beer at 4% ABV when you can smuggle whisky at 40% ABV. Why get hung for a lamb rather than a sheep? The same is the case with drugs in the UK right now. The kinda mild weed I used to smoke is practically unobtainium because it has been forced out by skunk which is much stronger and has much more in the way of weird effects. Of course this course more problems which of course the bansturbators construe as ever more proof they are right. Britain is legally very down on cannabis. People are taking all sorts of weird shit.

As to guns. Well, I think you describe the situation in the USA pretty much perfectly. There could easily be something of the order of a hundred million firearms in private hands in the USA and a lot of those private hands are not going to hand them over without a fight. And that for obvious reasons could be a gun-fight. I mean if you are seriously committed to the 2nd Ammendment and are armed how else, when push comes to shove, gonna defend that right?

I think it is so much more about culture rather than law. Way too many people think simply making x,y or z illegal in and of itself solves any problems (real, imagined or jazzed-up for nefarious purposes) associated with x,y or z in and of itself. If it did we'd have no need for police, criminal courts or prisons now would we?

09 January, 2023 05:50  
Blogger Mary said...

I agree mostly with what you’ve said, but what, if any, suggestions would you have to curb or reduce gun violence in America, since we do seem to have higher rates than other developed countries.

09 January, 2023 06:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Rounder: The much lower violent crime rates in Europe and Japan also apply to crimes where guns are not relevant, and are probably mostly due to culture and the greater egalitarianism in those places compared to the US. Some countries with high rates of gun ownership, such as Sweden, still have low crime rates. Latin America and Subsaharan Africa have much higher rates of violent crime than the US does. Again, there's no reason to think availability of guns has much to do with that. It's probably more to do with culture and high levels of poverty and inequality.

Americans tend to be far more inclined to defy and resist authority, especially what they regard as illegitimate authority, than people in most countries do -- another example of a cultural difference. An attempt at large-scale confiscation of guns would probably not result in much violent resistance in, say, Australia or France. The result here would be very different.

NickM: By analogy with what you say about drugs, a serious effort to ban or limit guns might well result in more powerful and dangerous guns becoming more widespread -- since they would be obtained on the black market or through underground channels, which is dangerous, people would want to get the most possible "bang for the buck".

There are at least three hundred million guns in private hands in the US, and probably far more, considering how many circulate completely outside of any legal record-keeping system. At least a third of US households own guns (in my state, Oregon, it's one-half). Guns are more than just defensive tools -- in vast areas of the country they're a deep-rooted part of the culture.

I'm sure cultural differences are the main issue. Even if the UK had the same per capita gun ownership rate as the US, the murder rate would probably not be much higher. Even if most of the guns disappeared from the US, I doubt the overall level of violent crime would decline much. The Middle East has random mass killings like our mass shootings; they're just carried out by things like car bombs instead of guns. I don't think a murder victim much cares what type of weapon he's killed by. Dead is dead.

Mary: That's a difficult question and I don't claim to be an expert on such things. A better mental-health system, and educating the public to spot and report signs that a person is about to turn violent, would probably help somewhat. Putting armed guards on places known to be potential targets, such as schools, would definitely help. Israel, which is constantly threatened by terrorists who target places like schools, use both armed guards and behavioral profiling extensively, and it works -- successful attacks are rare. Notice that when the authorities really care about protecting something, that's what they do. The president's Secret Service detail, the security at military bases and other sensitive locations -- they use armed guards. We could probably get other pointers by looking at countries like Israel, which also live with a constant threat of armed violence (though for different reasons), and seeing what has worked for them.

But in the short term it may not be possible to reduce the problem dramatically. In general crime has declined over the course of US history (except for surges in the early twentieth century and from the 1960s to 1990s), and the broad trend will likely continue. But we probably won't get down to European levels of violence until we reach European levels of equality, education, and the social safety net, and maybe not even then.

09 January, 2023 08:10  
Blogger Mary said...

Your last paragraph to me, says it all in a nutshell. Don’t see this changing anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime.

09 January, 2023 08:40  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

That's all very true. If you really want it whether it is banned or not, you will find a way to get it.

09 January, 2023 16:25  
Anonymous spirilis said...

But there is money for everyone with the problem in play and none in the solution. Don't need no cops if there's no robberies.

10 January, 2023 14:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because they are civilised?

10 January, 2023 20:40  
Anonymous Mart said...

We could try requiring gun owner insurance to help pay for the carnage and make it illegal to open carry long arms; and if really dreaming conceal carry. Seems like almost daily FU / no FU boom boom stories around these parts.

10 January, 2023 21:09  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: Unfortunately so. We should do what we can. Since it's ultimately about cultural change, government and laws won't have much of a role to play.

Mary K: Too bad politicians have such a hard time understanding that. Too much of legislation these days has a sort of reverse neutron bomb effect, destroying personal freedoms while leaving the targeted problem practically unaffected.

Spirilis: Can't quite decipher your point, sorry.

Anon: Because who is civilized? What is "because" of that? It's hard to respond to what you say unless you actually say it.

Mart: I'm not sure what good that would do. Monetary expense is not the main problem caused by gun violence, unless you're thinking of medical expenses of surviving victims. If the insurance were expensive enough to deter gun ownership, it would probably be unconstitutional. Most people who are out to commit crimes presumably don't open-carry, and a ban on concealed carry would be hard to enforce unless the police were constantly stopping and checking everyone. Certainly somebody who was already planning to commit murder wouldn't balk at breaking an anti-concealed-carry law.

11 January, 2023 03:06  
Blogger Annie Asks You said...

I think there are other ways to view our dreadful gun problem apart from bans and confiscation--though I do believe, as does the International Association of Chiefs of Police--that assault weapons should be banned going forward. There can be buybacks for those who willingly surrender them. There is no reason for weapons of war and large capacity magazines that are designed to kill the maximum number of people very quickly to be on our streets. The statistics around the efficacy of the 1994 ban are murky, but if such a ban were accompanied by removal of the insulation of gun manufacturers from liability (the only manufacturers protected in that way), the law might well have clear life-saving benefits.

Universal background checks and mandatory licensing--such as the requirements to operate a car, another potentially lethal object--also seem to me to be sensible laws that vast majorities of Americans support, according to a number of polls.

Yes, we have a problem with increasing radicalization of some police and members of the military--one that we accept without addressing at our peril. I think equating "freedom" with the unfettered right to operate firearms and carry them openly in public places is a perversion of the term that fails to take into account all those killed or maimed by gun violence.

There was a time when the NRA advocated gun safety laws. This pro-gun frenzy has been years in the making, and it can be countered, just as cigarettes were.

And though I realize there's no going back, gun rights based on the Second Amendment are regarded by a number of legal scholars as a misreading of the Constitution: The amendment refers to "a well regulated militia"--not individual gun ownership.

11 January, 2023 09:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Annie: But my point is that something like a ban on "assault weapons", however defined, wouldn't work, regardless of whatever merits such a ban might have. There's no effective way of forcing people who want to keep them to give them up, and such a law would create a black market and drive the trade in forbidden guns underground. It would probably mean somewhat fewer such guns in circulation, but it wouldn't be much of an impediment to obtaining them for people who have criminal intent anyway.

The equation "banning X means X ceases to be available" is the error I'm arguing against here. It didn't work with alcohol, it doesn't work with drugs and sex work, and it won't work with guns or abortion.

Background checks and licensing might help, but again, it would be fairly easy for people determined to evade such requirements to do so.

Again, in considering how effective restrictive laws would be, remember that 60% of the counties in the whole country are already refusing to enforce the state and federal gun laws that already exist. Laws don't work where the population, including local authorities, considers them illegitimate.

As to the Second Amendment, the "militia" reference is given as a reason why the right to own weapons exists, not as a category of people to whom the right is limited. It says "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" in plain English, and "the people" in the Second Amendment means the same thing as it does in the First, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, etc Amendments -- everybody.

11 January, 2023 10:44  
Blogger Mary said...

Just finish an article in the WPO about this 6 yr old child who shot the teacher in Va. it discussed several cases and how someone that young cannot comprehend the association of having a gun and the act of shooting. I agree. In each case the gun was readily available and loaded and not locked. And this statement, which I have no reason to doubt, was …. As of 2015, as many as 4.6 million children lived in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. According to the Giffords Law Center, 23 states and the District have passed legislation requiring people to secure their firearms, though the regulations vary widely, as does the enforcement of them.
Just an example that if parents were responsible (dream on) and the laws were upheld and people made accountable, these type of killings would certainly be less.
And even though I agree that many gun laws would not help, they just might in some occasions save a life, which would be worth it to me. But until our society changes, " we probably won't get down to European levels of violence until we reach European levels of equality, education, and the social safety net, and maybe not even then", as you so aptly said.

11 January, 2023 13:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: Laws requiring securing of firearms are very iffy. If you have a gun for self-defense, you need it to be available instantly in case of a break-in. And yes, self-defense is a legitimate reason to have one -- every year there are at least several hundred thousand cases of people using a gun for self-defense. Without those guns, there would be substantially more deaths, since in at least some fraction of the cases, the victim would have ended up dead if he or she hadn't been armed.

if..... the laws were upheld

But they won't be, not when people have serious reasons for rejecting them and in many cases the local authorities sympathize. That's my point.

they just might in some occasions save a life

But experience shows that's not how it works. Prohibition led to a huge increase in violence and death associated with the alcohol industry. Drugs and the sex trade involve much more violence and criminality than they would if they were legal. Driving even part of the gun trade underground would probably have similar effects.

.....which would be worth it to me

The problem is, how much loss of freedom is appropriate to save even a few lives? Despite what people like to say in an abstract sense, the value of a life is not infinite. If we set up an anti-drug total-surveillance state, with government-monitored CCTV cameras in every room of every house and apartment, tens of millions of special enforcers with unlimited power to stop and search people so that every individual citizen was searched a couple of times a week, etc, that would probably result in some substantial reduction of drug use, which would save a few thousand lives a year, since some drugs are dangerous. But no one would want to live in such an Orwellian nightmare. It would probably take something like that to really enforce effective gun control (except that it still wouldn't work in that case since the targets are able to shoot back), but the price would be too high to pay.

11 January, 2023 16:50  
Anonymous spirilis said...

Sorry, the cops make as much fighting crime as the criminals doing the lawlessness. What is the crime in owning a gun? Where does the authority come from to tell a lady she can't rent out her vagina? Best example, you have an attractive police woman dressed provocatively, stand on a corner and entice men to offer a gratuity. Upon receiving the gratuity which is kept, he gets a soliciting citation and a court order to hand over another 2 grand. Kinda religious, creating a reward/punishment environment from nothing. Solutions would resolve the grift so they are actively discouraged by both criminals and crime fighters. All of these problems are created to turn 10 cents worth of dope into a 10 dollars worth of crack for which a 100 dollars worth of stolen property converts into 1000's of tax dollars.

12 January, 2023 06:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Well, yes, the authorities and their enforcers can profit from crime and thus have an incentive to criminalize behavior even when doing so is not an effective way to prevent the behavior. It's a problem. Of course, with asset forfeiture, the police in many jurisdictions can just openly steal from the citizenry without the bother of getting fines imposed or, in some cases, even getting a conviction.

12 January, 2023 08:29  
Anonymous spirilis said...

I was thinking that you were looking at it as a problem without solutions. I seeing it as a problem that those tasked do not want to solve. Either way problem not solved.

12 January, 2023 11:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It depends what you mean by "solution". The problem of gun violence can be somewhat mitigated. Banning things probably won't help and could easily make it worse.

Everyone note that the post is about both guns and abortion. Most liberals recognize that abortion bans will be pretty ineffective in preventing abortion, because work-arounds exist (such as abortion pills) and people in need will be very determined to obtain and use them. Now try to understand that the same general issues apply with gun bans.

12 January, 2023 13:06  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

Winston Churchill said that all you create with too many regulations is disrespect for the law

I’ve spent some time in eastern Europe, and in the societies of former communist countries you can see a deeply ingrained habit of seeking opportunity to break ANY rule or regulation, which is savored as a petty little victory over the state. Makes their day to get away with something,

This sort of thinking has been handed down to generations that weren’t even alive during the communist era, Sate oppression truly creates long-lasting societal damage, deep cynicism, lack of trust in anything or anybody. Takes decades to heal.

Such a contrarian mentality hurt these countries a lot during COVID, nobody wanted to be told what to do

And they didn’t learn to think as socialists either -since that was also rammed down their throat- the resulting mentality was/is more ‘every man for himself’

12 January, 2023 22:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

That's what one would expect from human nature. I saw some of East Germany when it was still a Soviet-bloc state, and the most striking difference from West Germany was the red propaganda banners that were hanging everywhere with trite, arrogant slogans to constantly remind everybody what opinions they were supposed to have. Of course people who have to live with that all the time turn against it and become contrarian.

In the medieval Chinese empire, officials were admonished not to interfere in the private lives of people any more than strictly necessary, since it could provoke unrest. It's an insight the modern totalitarians aren't capable of, unfortunately. Thinking about how repressive our own government would need to become in order to seriously limit abortions or guns, it's chilling.

13 January, 2023 00:47  
Blogger CAS said...

I meant to comment on this a while ago and got sidetracked. I think you make an excellent case for why prohibitions don't work. I agree with you but I'd like to see better control over the issuing of gun licenses. We have to get special training and testing to receive a driver's license because cars kill people. The same should be true for guns.

My dad loved to hunt and when I was in the 9th grade, I wanted to join him. I took a gun safety class in the evenings in order to get a license before my 16th birthday. My dad and his buddies took gun safety very seriously. In countries like France and Japan, you have to prove that you know how to handle and store a firearm before you're issued a license and you have to regularly update your license just as we do with driver's licenses here in the U.S.

This seems like a minimal requirement even though I know there would be huge resistance to it. The NRA used to back such programs. Now they're controlled by gun manufacturers that seemingly only care about maximizing profits. I'm not sure how we arrive at stricter licensing laws but it might begin with both sides of the political spectrum earnestly looking for ways to compromise.

19 January, 2023 00:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for commenting. I suppose adding requirements such as gun safety training to gun license requirements (assuming that's not already a requirement, which I'd think it would be) would encourage law-abiding people to do those things, but I don't think it would help much in keeping guns out of the hands of bad actors. The more onerous the licensing requirements become, the greater the incentive to just buy a gun illegally without bothering to get a license at all. There are a fair number of people out there driving cars without a valid license, and possession of a gun is rather easier to conceal than driving a car.

There's also this kind of issue. Illinois just enacted an assault-weapons ban. Of the state's 102 counties, only three intend to enforce it, with the rest defying or outright rejecting it. This is probably not unusual nationally. Again, I suspect that as licensing rules become stricter, there would be an increase in local authorities refusing to enforce them. Politicians might agree to compromise eventually, but the real issue is that gun-control laws -- like anti-abortion laws -- are simply rejected as illegitimate by vast portions of the public.

19 January, 2023 07:46  

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