Friday, August 31, 2007

Acceptible Vs. unacceptible gun legislation

In a previous post, I tried to establish that guns will remain present in our society for a long time, perhaps indefinitely. It's only natural that they should be subject to *some* legislation, just like motor vehicles and other dangerous machinery. However, which kind of regulation is acceptable and why? The gun rights group of the debate often seem too stubborn to allow even a minor infraction, I'll try to explore and explain that as well.

Good intentions.

There are a couple of good proposals and bad proposals to curb gun crime, let me try to show you some common grounds:

A good proposal is non-specific.
It's madness to try and ban certain models of firearms (the original assault weapons ban). It's utterly ridiculous to state that one specific model can do something that another cannot do. That's why a good restriction will cite characteristics. The current legislation concerning fully automatic firearms is a good example of this: all fully automatic weapons (handguns, rifles, smooth bore long guns and AOW's) are subject to this set of laws and tax regulations.
Another example is the banning of the "black talon" ammunition line. Black talons were quickly replaced by SXT (jokingly referred to as the Same eXact Thing), a specific ban obviously didn't work, but banning armour piercing handgun rounds was done effectively and universally by limiting the amount of high density materials that can be present in jacketed ammunition. Such measures are all-encompassing and provide clear guidelines to the industry concerning what they can and cannot make.

It should tackle a real problem.
If it's not broken, don't fix it, if a gun doesn't pose a problem, don't push to ban it. Examples for "bad" here are the proposed bans on .50 caliber guns, which are hardly ever using in a crime. Tougher laws on straw purchases on the other hand are likely to help curb gun violence, as would reasonable laws to reduce large purchases.

It hasn't been disproved yet.
People should be open to new ideas, and weary of people who push for laws that have been observed not to work elsewhere. Why would anybody want to pass legislation which is known not to work? Waiting periods have not been effective in reducing violence, I would have thought that it would at least reduce suicide rates, but I've yet to see evidence of that. The archaic methods of ballistic fingerprinting have also been proposed to be made mandatory. These now-obsolete methods have been largely useless in crime, even when they were still cutting edge. Ballistic forensics on the other hand, are an invaluable tool for criminal investigators. (I hope to write a piece on microstamping in the near future)

As you can see there are at least some "good" ways to curb gun crime, many remain untested for now. (as opposed to fighting poverty and being harsher on repeat offenders, but that's another story). Still, these proposition ctach quite the deal of flack from the gun-rights crowd, how come?
Good legislation starts with good intentions. You can safely assume that most politicians and activists have either a hidden agenda of sorts, or are acting on impulse and emotion, rather than reason. Gun rights activist are weary of poeple who might not have good intentions either pushing for these laws, or waiting untill after they've passed. This is one of the reasons that some proposals that seem very valid ways of fighting crime, will not be received well by gun right activists.
Aside from some notable examples(1), government officials going door to door to confiscate legally owned firearms is not an imminent threat to the gun owners of America. Still, it's fear from this that is causing a lot of people to oppose relatively benign laws that could in fact help to lower crime.

Why? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

The key word is incrementalism (neologism). No sane person would call for an all out ban on firearms. Not that one could not believe in such notion, but because it's not politically possible to achieve. there are two paths to take, the back door, or the slow and steady slope.
You start off with some minor restrictions, but in the past it's been seen that those do not always work, so more and more restrictions, all small and seemingly meaningless, are added, until eventually, the kind of weapons deemed fit for civilian ownership is tiny, and require a great deal of red tape/money to get them.
It's fear from this which makes a large amount of gun activists say: "No, we'll not allow you to get a foothold!" even when the legislation is a little bit benign.

This is made even worse by the fact that most large gun-control groups support (or have at one time supported) proposals which aren't sound (those three guidelines I've given up there). This causes gun rights activists to go off looking for potential, non-envisioned results of the proposal. Even when the proposal is benign, and might even help, people don't trust it, and will continue to oppose it in favor of other methods.

I don't know what the best way of reducing gun crime is, but the best way to get a proposal passed, is to target crime without affecting gun legislation. Focus on the human element, not the tools he uses.

About, the word "incrementalism" (wed sept 5 2007)
I've recently discovered the usage of this word in literature, namely "cryptonomicon" by Neil Stephenson (p181)

Registered gun confiscation begins

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