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Gun Control: Where’s the Logic?


One of the old Bolsheviks is reputed to have said that the best way to destroy a country is to debase its currency. A central bank is well-suited to that mission. But there’s another effective way: degrade people’s ability to construct or follow a logical argument. Government schools are particularly well-suited for that mission.

Has that ability been degraded here? How else can we account for the arguments people make for gun control? I’m not talking about Rosie O’Donnell now; she’s too easy. Let’s turn to the editorial board of the New York Times. On May 31 the Times published an editorial on the latest dramatic acts of gun violence: the killing of a teacher by a 13-year-old boy in Florida and the killing of five people at a Wendy’s restaurant in New York City.

Both were despicable crimes-no argument there. The Times thinks those horrendous events confirm the need for new laws against firearms. But the editorial not only fails to make that case; it actually refutes itself.

The boy killed his teacher with a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun that he took from an unlocked bureau drawer in the home of his grandfather. Before anyone says that Florida needs a new law, note that the Times acknowledges that “Florida, like 17 other states, has a child access prevention law on the books that requires gun owners to lock up their weapons.”

The Times is undaunted by that inconvenient fact: “But even where child access laws exist, their effectiveness is often undermined by the absence of any requirement that would-be gun owners be familiar with the rules for safe storage of weapons. That is one of the virtues of moving to a national gun licensing system in which such a requirement could be imposed.”

So an argument offered for federal gun licensing is that the license can be conditioned on applicants’ taking a course on safe storage. Apparently, adults, most of whom have gone through the government’s schools, can’t figure out on their own how to safely store weapons. But don’t they use locks to secure other things-without being taught by the government? And how can we be sure they will pay attention during the course or follow the advice later? That argument for licensing is tissue-thin.

The Times senses this, so it supplements the argument: “The further tragedy is that this killing could probably have been prevented had all handguns been required to have safety locks that prevented their firing except by an authorized user.” Is someone who leaves a gun and ammunition in an unlocked drawer accessible to a child likely to use a trigger lock? Notice that the Times smuggles in a non sequitur. A trigger lock does not ensure that a gun cannot be fired by an unauthorized person. Anyone who finds the key to the lock can fire the gun. Someone who leaves a gun in an unlocked drawer might well leave a trigger-lock key to be found. No law can prevent irresponsible adults from leaving guns where children can find them. And yet, gun accidents with children have been falling for years.

The Times ‘s take on the Wendy’s murders is also flawed. The editorial scoffs at calls for the death penalty for the killers. Why? Because the death penalty is an unproven deterrent! And gun laws are a proven deterrent? Instead, the Times wants a “tightening [of] the nation’s gun laws to deny violent thugs inappropriate access.” The editorial points out that the two suspects have criminal records and would not have passed background checks had they tried to buy guns from a dealer.

So the suspects had no guns, right? Well, no. As the Times notes, “One of the suspects told police that they had no trouble buying a .380-caliber semi-automatic on the street in Jamaica, Queens.” The editorial just throws that fact out as though it has no implications for its argument for new gun laws. As my 12-year-old son, Ben, would say, “Duh!”

“These latest high-profile gun tragedies argue for passing that legislation [pending in Congress] and moving on to stronger measures,” concludes the Times . Right. And while they’re passing laws against criminals’ possessing guns, why don’t they also pass one against earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes?

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.