Le Québécois Libre, January 15, 2011, No 285.
The unfortunate recent shooting in Arizona in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were attacked has revived the gun law debate, especially because Arizona has relatively lax gun laws.
It is widely speculated in the media that Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman, may have some sort of mental imbalance, so there have been calls for tougher screening to limit the ability of mental patients to purchase guns. One of the reasons why he is being deemed mentally unstable is because of his anti-government views, and his support for the gold standard. By this definition the entire libertarian community should be moved to a mental institution.
It must be noted that mental illness only rarely translates into criminal violence. According to Rich Daly of Psychiatric News, the mentally ill only perpetrate between 3 and 5 percent of all gun related violence. A statistical link with the brand of shoes that the killer used might yield more conclusive results.
Just like any other sort of health problem, mental health problems affect many people all around us. Most of them lead relatively normal lives while coping with their imbalance in the same way that others cope with chronic fatigue or diabetes. Because of the huge stigma attached to mental illness, privacy is vital to the mental patient’s ability to function in society. The publication of mental records through a consolidated database to allow gun dealers to perform background checks would be a huge blow to this overwhelmingly peaceful—and sometimes fragile—segment of our population.
Beyond the mental illness angle, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is already talking about a federal ban on high capacity magazines, like the one allegedly used by Loughner. Considering the repeated and unmitigated failure of every single prohibitionist policy, why would anyone still advocate banning anything?
Banning a good or service only creates a black market for it. And along with the criminalization comes the violence related to the illegal trafficking. In other words, not only do the goods or services not leave the market, but we create new branches of crime, we incur huge costs in connection to the enforcement of the laws, and we see a rise in the price of the goods and services in question.
Sometimes a ban can even make the good or service more readily available than if it were legal. Take the case of illegal drugs for example. It is much easier for a teen to get hold of marijuana than beer.
Illegality also imparts the good or service with a certain appeal. The 1920’s prohibition of alcohol in the USA gave glamour to the underground bars. Likewise today, we see how drug dealing has been idealized in parts of the hip-hop culture.
We should also remember that producing, buying, selling or owning a weapon does not in any way harm anybody. The initiation of violence against others or their property, with or without guns, is what needs to be punished. Victimless, voluntary exchanges are not crimes.
I suppose Congresswoman McCarthy spends time in Washington DC, where some of the most draconian gun laws have been in effect since 1976. The prohibition on handguns in DC was recently struck down, but she should be familiar with the high crime rate that has raged for decades in the District of Columbia, and with the fact that harsh laws did not stop violent criminals from carrying guns there. Restrictive gun laws disarm law abiding citizens, not criminals.
We may contrast the District of Columbia with Switzerland, which has one of the highest private gun ownership rates in the world, and where gun crime rates are statistically insignificant. That little country has no professional army, so Swiss males between the ages of 18 and 42 are required by law to keep a fully automatic assault rifle at home. While conscription should not be advocated, we should note that the Swiss don’t go around shooting each other, just like we don’t go around stabbing each other to death in spite of the fact that we all have big, sharp, lethal knives in our kitchens.
While we feel for the friends and families of the victims, and many people think bans are the right thing to do, they simply do not produce the desired effects. There was once a world without guns, and it was a world in which both cruelty and crime were definitely present.
Do not let politicians manipulate you through your emotions. Oppose the passing of legislation that restricts your freedom, endangers your privacy and causes problems while solving none.
* Rod Rojas is a holder of the Canadian Securities Course designation and performs as a financial adviser in personal, corporate, and public-policy matters. Read his articles at Mises.org. Send him mail.