The Efficacy of Gun Control, by B.W.

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Plato purportedly said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” and in many ways he was correct. Violence has been a constant throughout recorded history, and it continues to plague humanity. In fact, perhaps the only significant change is our growing expertise and efficiency. The invention of the firearm in 13th century China marked a turning point in state-sponsored warfare and interpersonal violence. Black powder in conjunction with a simple machine and projectile enabled the relatively unskilled and weaker combatant to create parity with a group who possessed superior strength. For better or worse, politics had irrevocably changed. As a direct result, the following questions immediately emerged: Who should possess these weapons? Should they be exclusive to state actors? Should they be available to the general public? As emotionally charged as these questions have become, and as much as we want there to be simple solution to violence, gun control is politically dangerous, it does not directly prevent violence, and history has shown it to be a dangerous tool in the oppression of minority ethnic, religious, and political groups.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his seminal work The Prince, which detailed his observations and reflections on politics and government. He made the following statement regarding the citizenry and arms: “But when you disarm them, you begin to offend them, and you show that you distrust them either because of cowardice or lack of loyalty, and both of these judgements generate hatred against you.”[1] Nothing if not pragmatic, Machiavelli argues that if a ruling party desires to regulate (or prohibit) private firearm ownership, they take a huge political risk. For by attempting to disarm the populace, the ruling party can potentially cause the political unrest they were attempting to prevent.

Further complicating the political viability of gun control, the anger and hostility generated by these efforts can become multi-generational. In his 1927 autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi recounted several decades of British oppression. He reserved some of his most pointed comments for British efforts at firearm regulations, specifically the Indian Arms Act of 1878.

“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look back upon the Act depriving the whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.”[2]

This reasoning may seem archaic in our postmodern society, but what would be the outcome of a Presidential Executive Order outlawing private gun ownership in this country? Would the situation be any less politically and socially precarious than it was in the time of Machiavelli? Arguably, any such action would produce the largest political crisis since World War II.

It can be argued that political expediency is irrelevant because gun control is necessary to prevent interpersonal violence. There can be no debate that firearm violence is out of control in the Americas, and common sense dictates that removing the guns will stop the violence. But does fewer (or no) guns directly translate into fewer victims? In response to the 1996 Dublane School Massacre, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, which prohibited the private ownership of handguns. This is not an uncommon response to a tragedy of this nature. We saw similar actions in Australia following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre. These laws were presumably well-intentioned and were generally considered to be successful at limiting gun violence. Unfortunately, and perhaps counter-intuitively, in spite of a drop in gun-specific violence, violence in general has not lessened.

According to the UK Home Office Statistical Bureau, in the ten years preceding the Firearms Acts of 1997, the murder rate in England and Wales was fairly consistent and averaged 11.6 per 1,000,000. It would be assumed that the rate would drop as a direct result of the legislation. However, in the ten years following the Act, murder rates actually rose consistently and averaged 14.0 per 1,000,000. This is a fairly conservative average, because the rate trended upward post-Act, and peaked at 17.9 in 2002/2003.3 If gun violence in fact diminished (representing only 9% of murders in 2008 to 2011), how does the murder rate continue to climb? Simply put, violence is not limited to a single instrument, and the lack of firearm availability does not translate into a decrease in violent crime. Furthermore, according to the same report, 37% of all murders of men were with “sharp objects”, and a further 27% were from “hitting and kicking, etc.”[3]

There is another, more disingenuous intention driving many historical attempts at firearm confiscation. It is best explained by the 1857 United States Supreme Court Case Scott v. Sanford. Even though this decision is a monumental blemish on the history of the court, it betrays the intentions of many who would exert control.

“It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation…and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”[4]

It is notable that one of the primary causes for this absurd decision is that “they” would be allowed to travel, speak, and carry a firearm at will. Therein lies the issue. Gun control is a powerful tool in the subjugation of minority ethnic, religious, and political groups. At this point, many would ascribe this premise to paranoia or conspiracy, but a limited study of 20th century (and before) history, reveals an alarming trend: gun control precedes genocide.

Given more time, we could discuss the Ottoman Turks, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and the millions of political, religious, and ethnic minorities that died at their hands following targeted gun control legislation, but for the sake of this paper, it is sufficient to note the following from Bernard E. Harcourt:

“But if forced to, it seems fair to conclude—at least preliminarily—that the Nazis were in favor of less gun control than the Weimar Republic for the “trustworthy” German citizen—while disarming and engaging in a genocide of the Jewish population.”[5]

The harsh reality is history does not favor the disarmed. The twentieth century has shown us multiple examples of ethnic cleansing and genocide, many of which are still on-going. Pragmatically speaking, when a minority group gives up their arms, either by force or voluntarily, it greatly increases the likelihood of oppression by those who have not.

Admittedly, gun control is an emotionally charged topic. All sides are deeply vested in their opinions and platforms. This is not surprising because there is so much at stake. All sides would like to see a world without violence, where instruments of war are not necessary. However, it is misguided to think that these instruments are the cause of our problems. Cain did not need a firearm to kill Abel, just as the rock did not provoke him to do so. Political and social theory aside, there is just the historical fact that mankind is generally violent, and we will use whatever is at hand as the instrument of that violence. It may be a firearm, a sword, a sharpened stick, a stone, or a neutron bomb, but the outcome is predictably the same.

Bibliography

References


[1] Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince and Other Writings. New York: Fine Creative Media, Inc., 2003.


[2] Gandhi, Mahatma. My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. New Delhi: General Press, 2013. Amazon Kindle Edition.


[3] Smith, Kevin, Sarah Osborne, Ivy Lau, and Andrew Britton. “Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11: Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11.” Home Office Statistical Bulletin (January 2012): Accessed November 14,2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/116483/hosb0212.pdf.


[4] The Dred Scott Case. The Black Heritage Library Collection. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1973. Electronic Format.


[5] Harcourt, Bernard. “On the NRA, Adolph Hitler, Gun Registration, and the Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Culture Wars.” A Call to Historians, Chicago, IL, April 5, 2004. Accessed November 16, 2015. http://www.law.uchicago.edu/files/files/harcourt_fordham.pdf.

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