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Unintended Consequences
by Clyde H. Spencer
Copyright 2000

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 litigation.

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 their habits.

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 allow.

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.

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In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all — security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. — EDWARD GIBBON [On ancient Athens]

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