Sur Samtani joins us as a Politikon writer from UCLA. As an Economics major, Sur’s expertise is reflected by his technical and methodical approach to public policy issues. As a close friend and colleague in previous endeavors, we are grateful for his contributions. His bio will shortly follow.
In light of the recent Colorado theater shooting, many anti-gun activists suggest that we should take a deeper look into gun policy in the U.S. They worry that purchasing automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles with powerful armor-piercing bullets has become too easy. Rather than asking the question, “Should we have stricter gun control in the U.S?” we should ask, “What would happen to the U.S. if we created laws that restricted the purchase of assault rifles?” The biggest problem with gun control is that its advocates assume that killers won’t find alternate ways of killing, and equally concerning is the fact that advocates also don’t anticipate killers finding another way to obtain guns.
Those people who wish to take a moderate stance on the issue often say that they just want to make it harder for criminals to obtain the most powerful weapons available. Such reasoning implies that gun control laws actually make it harder for people to obtain these weapons or that the penalty of owning a gun deters criminals from doing so. Both licensed and unlicensed gun manufacturers replicate military technology and sell weapons illegally to criminals and would-be criminals. According to Jay Wachtel, a gun expert from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, illegal manufacture of guns is the second most popular way for criminals to obtain guns aside from surrogate purchases by non-criminals. With the demand for guns consistently ample, strict gun control laws and attempts to restrict supply drive prices up and create a greater incentive for manufacturers to sell illegally. While the average law-abiding citizen will avoid purchase due to fear of being arrested, the average criminal will realize that possessing an illegal weapon is the least of his worries. Consequently, strict gun control creates a system in which criminals have powerful weapons while law-abiding citizens have nothing.
You might say that the U.S. has the highest gun ownership per capita at nearly 90 percent and that it also has the highest murder rate by guns in the developed world. To that, I ask, “Can you really assert that nine out of every ten people around you own a gun?” In most of suburbia, you would find a number closer to one-tenth. It seems that in the U.S., guns are concentrated in areas that contain avid hunters and in areas that contain violent criminals. This means that the per capita numbers get pushed up to nearly one per person, but in reality, one person will have multiple guns and most others will have none. In places that do have a more balanced ratio of gun ownership, we find that crime rates are extremely low. In Kennesaw, Georgia, the citizens passed a law requiring that every household have a gun (I personally don’t endorse this, but it is ideal for demonstrating a point), and it experienced a drop in both the crime rate and the violent crime rate. Switzerland, due to its unique neutral status, requires that 18 year olds be trained in firearms and own a firearm in case of an invasion. A consequence of this requirement is that every house has at least one gun, resulting in the fourth highest gun ownership per capita and the lowest crime rate in the world.
Such information suggests that the best answer to reducing crime is to have more guns for more people. The concept of deterrence protected many countries from being bombed with nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It has protected the citizens of Switzerland as well as those of Kennesaw, Georgia, and it can protect the U.S. if only guns were embraced and not condemned. Pursuing the policy of preventive restriction, as many now suggest, will fail and put good people in the most vulnerable of positions. Even if guns were restricted effectively, the one person who manages to get his hands on an automatic assault rifle would play God.