Have a look at the various types of “bans” to see how effective they are:
- The War on Drugs – which, we must admit, we initially supported – has cost over $1 trillion dollars and resulted in possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths in the 40+ years it has been fought; it’s effectiveness is, at best, debatable.
- Prohibition [1920-1933] directly caused the rise of organized crime in the United States and was horribly ineffective
- The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and the current Gun Control debates merely spurred increased purchases of the very weapons that were made illegal
Some of the indirect consequences of these bans include:
- Inconsistent enforcement: jurisdictional differences, politics, class, race; all impact [or are perceived to impact, which is essentially the same] enforcement efforts
- Reduced respect for laws and law enforcement, resulting on increased – and often open – flouting of the laws
- Ignoring the root causes of the problems: substance abuse, mentally ill, previous laws not being enforced, etc.
All of which are ingredients of an authoritarian government, as opposed to the Rule of Law our Founding Fathers envisioned.
And now the question has been asked:
Gun control has long been a controversial issue in American politics. However, there are three aspects to this issue that make this more volatile than other hot topics such as taxes, foreign policy, or abortion:
1) The strongest advocates of each side hold fundamentally irreconcilable positions.
On one hand, committed gun-control advocates say: “No one should be allowed to own certain weapons.” On the other hand, equally committed gun-rights advocates say: “No way in hell are we giving up these weapons.”
2) Ordinary Americans have declared their willingness to disobey the law.
New York state has already passed laws similar to Obama’s proposals. Gun owners there are now organizing a campaign of open civil disobedience, daring state officials to “come and take” their rifles. State officials already acknowledge that they will be unable to enforce the new law.
3) Local law enforcement officials and state governments have also vowed civil disobedience.
Over 280 sheriffs and eight state sheriffs’ associations have vowed to protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights against new gun laws.
In the worst case, we could see clashes between armed law enforcement officials at different levels of government, each regarding themselves duty-bound to enforce their respective understandings of the Constitution. Wide swaths of the country would likely thumb their noses at the central authorities — and get away with it.
In addition to open civil disobedience, new technology also increases the capacity for quiet noncompliance, at least with respect to magazine capacity restrictions. 3D printing enthusiasts are already developing plans that allow people to create their own 30-round magazines at home. The designs are still rough, but will almost certainly improve when thousands of motivated hobbyists turn their minds to this challenge. Even if the government outlaws the dissemination of the design data and/or possession of such home-built magazines, an underground market will likely still thrive, just as there is already a thriving underground market in pirated software and music.
Once such unenforceable laws are on the books, there are serious negative consequences, including:
1) Selective enforcement
The federal authorities may try to make an example of a few high-profile cases, but that will probably anger the other gun owners more, rather than cow them. (For more on the problems of proliferation of laws which prosecutors can then selectively enforce, see this paper by law professor Glenn Reynolds.)
2) Diversion of limited police resources from real crimes
This is just another example of Charles de Montesquieu’s adage: “Useless laws weaken necessary laws.”
3) Increasing contempt by otherwise honest citizens for the central government
And, with the passage of unpopular bans comes something more insidious: corruption of government officials, including law enforcement. It happened during Prohibition, it has happened during the War on Drugs; it’s tough to image that it wouldn’t happen with something so hugely unpopular as some sort of gun ban.
Bans have generally been ineffective in the past, both in the United States and across the globe, even under totalitarian regimes that had no Constitutional curbs like the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Perhaps it is past time for our government to learn hubris.