Newton's Third Law of Motion is, "For every action there is an equal
and opposite reaction." I
believe that the social corollary to that is what we often call "unintended
consequences." An example of
that might be in passing a law that imposes the death penalty for rape.
A rapist might well rationalize that since the penalty for rape is the
same as for murder, then he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by
eliminating the only witness to his crime.
So, the law that was intended to provide additional deterrence for rape,
ends up encouraging murder.
We have a similar situation with existing and proposed gun control laws.
Since the legislative emphasis is on making it more difficult for
criminals to obtain guns through legitimate sources, instead of devising ways to
actually deter the criminal acts perpetrated with a weapon, one might reasonably
expect that, as the legitimate sources of guns are restricted, criminals will
turn to other sources.
What might those other sources be? Since
nearly half of all homes contain at least one firearm, increased burglary is a
highly probable response. Well, of
course, the lawmakers could make it more difficult for the average citizen to
buy and own firearms. Many, such as
President Clinton, Senator Schumer, and Handgun Control Inc. have indeed
proposed further restrictions on legitimate ownership by the average citizen
(read that as not wealthy and powerful), by schemes such as registration and
ultimately confiscation supported by the prior registration.
It is already happening here in California with so-called 'assault
weapons.' A movement is also
currently taking place to destroy the firearms manufacturing industry through
Well, what next as the easy sources are progressively eliminated?
There are considerable stores of firearms in Army, National Guard, and
Police armories. Thefts from these
sources, of automatic weapons and others more powerful than found in the home,
have been occurring with little notariety for years.
Even if we tighten security on these sources, we only create an enhanced
business opportunity for the drug cartels who currently supply tons of illicit
drugs with relative impunity. They
will undoubtedly diversify their inventory and supply weapons to their
distributors and users. After all,
the users will need an effective means to steal the money and goods to support
Perhaps the most ominous prospect is, that for the individual(s) who have
formerly been law-abiding (and have no ties to organized crime), and perceive
some personal wrong that they feel they have no alternative but to be the court
of last resort for, they will almost certainly turn to arson or bombs to exact
their perverted sense of justice. If
they are a little more creative and talented, they may choose to poison a
water-supply, distribute bacterial agents, or resort to sarin gas as happened in
the subways of gunless Japan.
I hope that the reader can see that not only is the focus on restricting
guns misguided, but the probable outcome of the campaign might well lead to
increased deaths by gangs using more powerful weapons, and the mentally
unbalanced substituting methods capable of killing far more than any gun would
So what are the alternatives? The
entertainment industry must not foster the idea that it is acceptable for
someone to take the law into their own hands, as in the movies typified by the
Charles Bronson 'Death Wish' series, to name just one of many socially
undesirable movies that glorify guns and violence.
A judicial review system other than the Supreme Court – a Super
Ombudsmen – needs to be considered to deal with situations where people feel
that they have been unjustly treated by the system. Lastly, the profit motive has to be eliminated from addictive
drug distribution, and inner city residents – largely minorities – who feel
trapped, helpless, and without a viable future, have to be given hope and
opportunity. When these things are
done, guns will cease to be a 'problem' since there will be less of a demand for
them by those who might misuse them. Until
that time, someone will supply them, or worse, just as with drugs.
The current course of action, favored by legislators and the news media,
is bound to be ineffective and probably counterproductive. We have little time before short-sighted legislators and
editors make my predictions come true.
Originally published as “On
Gun Control Laws and the Bigger Picture,” as a Guest Opinion in the Union
Democrat newspaper, Sonora, California, August 3, 1999 and “Unintended
Consequences” in the CRPA Firing Line, March 2000.