March 28, 2020

Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, good-hearted people immediately begin looking for ways to prevent the next act of evil. That’s natural, and it’s worthwhile. What isn’t worthwhile is substituting emotional manipulation for evidence-based policymaking. And unfortunately, after the Las Vegas massacre, that’s precisely what’s been happening.

We’ve heard from Democratic politicians that those who don’t immediately leap to “do something” — anything, presumably — about guns are somehow cold-hearted. Jimmy Kimmel went so far as to suggest that those who don’t support his gun control agenda have blood on their hands.

But here’s the problem: Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. Furthermore, there is no correlation between states with high rates of gun ownership and states with high rates of gun homicide.

So, how do we make good gun policy?

Let’s begin with the facts: You have an individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Any supposition that your rights to self-defense are relegated to your membership in a “well-regulated militia” are legally groundless and historically ignorant. That’s why the Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that “the operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

There’s a reason for the Founding Fathers’ logic here — and that reasoning is still relevant .

First, bad people are capable of getting arms in the U.S. That is a simple fact. According to epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Health, the vast majority of perpetrators in crimes involving guns in Pittsburgh — nearly 80 percent — obtained their guns illegally. And relying on the police to defend you is often impossible — the police can only respond to crimes, they can’t forestall them. That means that your last line of self-defense is your ability to use a weapon. Gun rights advocates state that guns are used millions of times a year to stop a crime — but even the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that guns are used in this way well over 67,000 times per year.

Second, the Founders feared the possibility of tyranny, and they supported state militias and individual gun ownership to prevent such tyrannies from arising. It makes perfect sense that the first gun control laws promulgated in the United States were pushed by the Ku Klux Klan, which was seeking to prevent Black gun ownership after the Civil War. As UCLA constitutional scholar Adam Winkler has written, “It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt. … The KKK began as a gun control organization.” There also is a reason that when it attained power, Hitler’s regime sought to remove guns from Jews. It’s somewhat ironic to hear those who think President Donald Trump is an incipient fascist insist they trust Trump to seize millions of firearms from law-abiding Americans.

With all of that said, there are limitations on the Second Amendment: Your right to keep and bear arms does not apply to nuclear weapons, for example. In determining the best policies, we must balance the need and right to firearms with public policy concerns, including the risk that a machine gun will be used in public.  That’s why federal machine gun sale has been illegal since 1986.

Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. 

So, what do we do about situations like Las Vegas? We begin with the premise that we’re all brothers and sisters who want to prevent evil acts. Then we move on to the evidence.

It’s well worth discussing the banning of “bump stocks” (devices added to semi-automatic rifles that allow them to simulate automatic rates of fire), for example. We also should look at ways of enforcing federal laws banning the sale of guns to the mentally ill, without violating the due process rights of those suspected of mental illness. But to suggest banning all guns would be unwise as well as immoral: How exactly do gun control proponents suggest disarming 100 million Americans of 300 million guns, when we’ve been told that we can’t even identify 11 million illegal immigrants? Such an effort would end in bloodshed, even if it were desirable — which, of course, it isn’t, since criminals don’t tend to pay much attention to laws. 

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”