Monday, October 13, 2008J.D. Tuccille
The inevitable rise of President-for-Life Barack Obama will soon unleash his Stalinist hordes to ransack the gun cabinets of the nation and ravish Red America's newly disarmed womenfolk (and menfolk too, I guess, since Obama gets the bulk of the gay vote). That seems to be the nightmare keeping gun-rights advocates awake at nights. On Gunbanobama.com, the NRA-ILA warns that "Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history."
There's some truth to those warnings. That is, Obama is rather anti-gun. Sure, sure, he says he supports the Second Amendment. But he also endorsed the D.C. ban on handguns. That makes Obama's support for gun rights about as thoroughgoing and enthusiastic as Anthony Comstock's regard for free speech.
But that doesn't mean that America will be disarmed under an Obama presidency, even if that's how the hypothetical new chief executive wants to expend his political capital. For starters, law just doesn't matter as much as people think when it comes to how people live their lives.
Honestly, I come from at least three generations of illegal gun owners in New York City (I now live within the law in Arizona, so don't think you're going to drop a dime, you tattletale). I say "at least" because I don't know for sure about my great-grandfather, but he owned a popular speakeasy. If he didn't keep unregistered weapons, the Sullivan Act would have been one of the few laws he obeyed. In fact, the gun laws are so byzantine and arbitrary that many New Yorkers have stopped trying to comply.
The result? Nobody knows how many illegal guns are in the city, but the most common estimate is two million shared among a population of about eight million. That's far more illegal guns than legal guns.
The city's meddling class likes to blame the black-market trade on looser rules and scofflaw dealers in other states. But even a professional busybody like Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have learned some basic economics from the financial news network he owns. Demand will always find a supply.
That's the case in Germany, where the German police union estimates that the country's 82 million people own twenty million illegal firearms -- above and beyond the legal weapons in private hands.
How can this be? Doesn't Germany have strict gun laws? Well ... yes. But laws are only as good as compliance, and people tend to comply only with laws that don't make them gag. In Gun Control and the Reduction in the Number of Arms (PDF), Dr. Franz Csaszar, professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, wrote in 2000, "Non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event." Referring specifically to Germany, Csaszar found, "In Germany the general registration of long guns was enforced in 1972. The existing stock was estimated at between 17 and 20 millions, while only 3,2 million guns have been registered within the legally set period."
Germany's black market keeps the supply of guns flowing, mostly from Eastern Europe, according to the Small Arms Survey, to satisfy continuing demand -- despite the law.
Flipping the bird to gun-banners is a popular game around the world. Csaszar estimated that compliance with Australia's ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns may have gone as high as 20%, Canada's ban on "military-style" rifles pulled in from 3% to 20% of targeted guns, depending on the model. When Austria banned pump-action shotguns, only 10,557 were surrendered or registered out of 60,000 in private hands.
What about something closer to home?
In Can Gun Control Work? (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), James B. Jacobs, Warren E. Burger Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University, wrote:
In Boston and Cleveland, the rate of compliance with bans on assault rifles is estimated at 1%. Out of the 100,000 to 300,000 assault rifles estimated to be in private hands in New Jersey, 947 were registered, an additional 888 rendered inoperable, and 4 turned over to the authorities. In California, nearly 90% of the approximately 300,000 assault weapons owners did not register their weapons.
None of this should be all that surprising. Jacobs points out that many gun control advocates are among the first people to admit that drug laws are unenforceable. As he says, "Does the drug war not cast doubt on schemes for gun prohibition or stringent regulation?" Why should gun laws be different?
What this all means is that if Barack Obama is elected the next president of the United States, and if he's fibbing and plans to seize private guns or seriously restrict the ownership of firearms, he's likely to be about as successful at targeting guns as the government has been at eliminating the use of marijuana in this country. He won't succeed because, if you're a gun owner, you almost certainly won't obey. If you're a gun control advocate, Obama-the-banner will ultimately be left standing with his pants around his ankles because his efforts will have about as much effect on your stubbornly armed brother-in-law as Nancy Reagan's just-say-no scolding had on your college dope habit.
That's not to say that the law can't do damage. It can impose fines, send people to prison and make Americans increasingly hostile toward the government. I won't minimize the damage to lives that implies.But that's government as usual -- pointless, repressive intrusions into people's lives without actually changing the way people live.