Commonsense Gun Reforms

A major reason the WW I doughboys were such effective soldiers was that they knew how to use their rifles to hit what they were aiming at -- and that happened because the gun was, for most Americans, an everyday tool. By the mid-1960s, however, many draftees had no practical understanding of firearms and the trends driving that change have continued since with the usefulness of firearms now limited, for most Americans, to either the commission of crime or the defense against it.

Gun confiscation proponents generally claim that their position responds to this cultural change -- but that's just dishonest:

  1. Established products and technologies vanish from daily life when preferable alternatives appear, not when government decries. Thus prohibition didn't work and neither did the war on drugs; but nobody confiscated the American horse and buggy, it just passed out of general use as social and technical change made it both impractical and unnecessary.
  2. Weapons confiscation is always about the assertion and continuance of power over a subject population -- never about civil crime. Thus George Mason, coauthor of the Second Amendment, nicely summarized progressive goals on gun control when, in a speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention on June 14, 1778 he said: "I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."

Oddly enough, however, the fact that confiscation proponents are generally either deluded, truly stupid, or lying doesn't mean that their cover argument is actually wrong: today's firearms really are, for most Americans most of the time, every bit as culturally and socially anachronistic as that horse and buggy -- something Grandpa might have used on a daily basis, but which should have no role in a modern society.

The reason this situation exists is that decades of increasingly intrusive anti-gun policy have distorted the American personal weapons market by making it increasingly costly for the law abiding to have or use weapons, while simultaneously reducing the disincentives to weapons use by crazies and criminals.

A few years ago then NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" and he was right -- but what he didn't talk about was first how to get that good guy in place before the bad guy shows up and starts shooting people; and, second how to protect that good guy from the self-righteous anger of liberal judges and prosecutors second guessing his high stress, split-second choices from the comfort of secure roles in well-protected offices and courtrooms.

If we want to get that good guy in place, free him to act, and open personal weapons markets to the kind of innovation that drove the horse and buggy into the nation's museums, we need to do three things:

1) Reducing both the incidence of gun violence and the left's ability to use it as a wedge issue while opening weapons markets to revolutionary change requires a national legal framework to protect Mr. LaPierre's good guys from politically motivated lawfare; to eliminate the gun-free areas crazies tend to see as safe target zones; and, to increase both the real and perceived risks of firearm use by those engaged in criminal or political action.

Specifically, the national legislation should reiterate both the right to bear arms and the obligations all Americans have to defend each other from criminal or political attack. As such it would supersede all state and local weapons regulation, eliminate licensing and related controls across the board, explicitly limit the ability of the courts and local jurisdictions to reimpose any form of weapons control, enumerate conditions under which an individual's right to bear arms may be limited (e.g. when in legal custody); and, both clearly and sharply limit the conditions under which someone firing a weapon in defense of the self or others can be sued or prosecuted for the consequences of doing so.

It should, furthermore, push toward standardized legal treatment of gun crime; place checks and limitations on both prosecutorial and judicial discretion in enforcing gun law; and, create new laws aimed at heavily penalizing those who knowingly misinform the public about the circumstances (as, for example, CNN did in presenting the Oregon shooter as white) leading up to, during, or directly consequent to, an action involving the use of weapons.

2) We need a good guy weapons and training regime that's both open to everyone and appropriate to the problem we're trying to address.

In general, progressives don't trust people to act intelligently, and argue, in this context, that encouraging inexperienced and lightly trained civilians to interfere in the commission of criminal acts will result in the deaths of innocent bystanders -- in the guilt jerker “Half Load” episode of “The Closer”, for example, a stereotypical white conservative frightens off some Latino carjackers by firing off the bullet that kills an innocent, but utterly heroic, black ex-con struggling to reform his life by washing graffiti off a church three blocks away.

In reality it's not a bad argument: this kind of thing does happen, but mainly because we're still using lightly upgraded 19th-century firearms; good guys face enormous social and financial costs for training and practice; and, the social stigma attached to carrying means that the people, other than retired or off-duty police or military personnel, most likely to be able to act are also the ones most likely to make this kind of mistake. Thus some "collateral damage" injuries are the result of plain bad luck, but most are actually consequences of market distortions produced by liberal policy.

What we need to fix this is the kind of revolution in personal weapons free markets tend to bring about -- along with, for the immediate future, something that can be produced right now which can end conflicts, is easy to use, and automatically limits the risk of accidental injury to the uninvolved.

The idea most likely to produce what we need is the self-destructing bullet. If, for example the standard bullet had a 1/9th second self-destruct it would, if fired at about 1,100 feet per second, be lethal out to about 120 feet -- beyond which the average handgun user couldn't intentionally hit a barn anyway -- and largely harmless beyond that.

Most existing bullets of this type seem intended for use with existing weapons, but the fact that a bullet which self-destructs, whether through fragmentation or liquification, will be both more lethal than a conventional round and untraceable to the weapon used unless chemically marked, suggests that the standardized "peacekeeper" bullet to be adopted and issued as part of the transition to a less-violent society should be part of a custom weapons package including multiple cartridges none of which can easily be made to work with existing weapons.

3) We need to recruit and support Mr. LaPierre's good guys without empowering vigilantism or risking the development of a politically controlled national militia of the type common in communist and religious dictatorships.

One way to do this might be to pass full responsibility for the deployment and management of our good guy cadre to the National Guard organizations managed by the various states. They, in turn, would manage the weapons program, provide training, and coordinate legal and political cover for their volunteers through the appropriate state officers.

In practice, most would of course start with their own people and give further preference to active and retired duty police and military personnel, but the federal legislation (and state authorizations) covering this should not limit their freedom to recruit as they wish, and must explicitly prevent any federal management or regulatory intervention or assistance beyond the provision of standardized tools, training, and legal protection for volunteers traveling out of their home states.

Put these three components together and what you get is the opportunity for most guns to go the way of the horse and buggy entirely without government assistance -- because allowing the market to determine what gets used and by whom while rebalancing the risk equation to make weapons use more dangerous for bad guys and safer for good guys, will quickly make gun use less attractive for crazies and criminals alike.