All of you reading this will likely by now be familiar with the abhorrent event that occurred in Las Vegas earlier this week. It is impossible to adequately express feelings of sympathy and remorse for people who experienced trauma that is completely beyond your comprehension, and I will not insult their intelligence by indulging in such empty gestures. I also do not believe in entertaining visceral political debate regarding gun control and dancing on the graves of the dead before the bodies have even had a chance to cool, unlike the Hillary Clintons of this world. Hence why I am only writing about the matter now.
Understandably, the first emotional reaction of many people in the wake of such atrocity is to demand stricter gun-control legislation. This is where we develop a problem. Laws can be used to punish (or bring other consequences down upon) perpetrators of crimes after the fact. What is completely beyond the scope and power of legislation to achieve, is to prevent atrocity from happening. There is not a single law, or even a code of laws, that could have stopped the Vegas spree-killer from committing his wicked deeds. The law can certainly be used to bring such killers to book, and in that manner act as some sort of deterrent, but that is about the best we can reasonably hope for.
The reason for this is simple – criminals, and terrorists for that matter, by their very definition do not obey laws. Committing murder is illegal. Committing rape is illegal. Committing acts of human trafficking is illegal. The purpose of having laws to make these acts illegal is not to stop them from happening, but to punish those who commit them. Therefore it should hardly be surprising that criminals also do not obey gun laws, regardless of how restrictive and onerous they may be. This is why there is no shortage of firearms in criminal hands in Jamaica, despite the island nation banning civilian ownership of guns in 1973 (and suffering a 400% increase in their homicide rate within a seven-year period as a result). This is why France suffered three mass shootings in 2015 (resulting in 147 dead and over 390 wounded) during which the perpetrators used fully-automatic weapons, which are completely banned by both French and EU law. This is why Australia endured no fewer than 13 mass-attacks after their 1996 National Firearms Agreement, of which five were perpetrated by use of guns.
Back home in sunny South Africa, we have among the strictest gun laws in the world. In spite of this we have a murder rate of 34.27 per 100 000, which places us as the 8th most violent country in the world. There is no shortage of criminals armed with fully-automatic AK-47 or R4 rifles, as daily news reports shall attest. Our incredibly strict gun laws are not keeping prohibited firearms out of criminal hands, because they are incapable of doing so. In fact, corrupt police officials have actually used the firearm legislation and associated firearm amnesties to supply firearms to criminal gangs in the Western Cape.
None of this should come as a surprise. The so-called War on Drugs has been an abject failure. Possession, trafficking, and use of controlled substances is highly illegal in most nations, and the penalties for being caught doing so can be incredibly severe. People have been put to death for smuggling drugs into Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In July 2016 the Philippines began a bloody and protracted campaign by government authorities against anyone suspected of drug dealing, and the bodycount currently stands in excess of 4000 killed. Yet, despite this, people still illegally procure and use narcotics. If I may twist a well-known adage, “if we outlaw drugs, only outlaws will have drugs.” Prohibitions do not work: they did not work for alcohol in the US during the 1920s, it is not working for drugs at the moment, and it will certainly not work for guns.
It is important that we also do not forget that mass-murderers do not need guns to kill and injure scores of people. Guns weren’t used in Oklahoma in 1995. They weren’t used in Boston in 2013. Nor were they used in Nice and Berlin in 2016, or at Manchester, London Bridge, and Barcelona this year. Yet in the wake of these incidents we did not see governments entertain calls for truck control, fertiliser control, immigrant control, or refugee control. We only fixate on the object used in an attack when it happens to be a gun.
“Common sense gun control” may be a powerful clarion call, but only for those that forget the United States actually already has that. There is a powerful impression that the US has no system of controlling who is legally allowed to buy firearms, despite the fact that the Internet allows people to easily discover that this is not remotely the case. Myths around so-called “gun show loopholes” and other untrue anecdotes get frequent airtime, almost always from people who have no idea what they are talking about, and who have never gone through the process of legally acquiring a firearm themselves. Those who actually do investigate the facts of the matter are frequently convinced to change their minds, such as Leah Libresco.
The only thing that gun control legislation does achieve, is to restrict law-abiding citizens from owning firearms. This in turn leaves them defenceless against the very people the law cannot protect them from. A perverse outcome, to put it mildly. It is telling to note that there is not a single country on Earth where murder rates have not increased following a gun ban. So perhaps when calling for more gun control, we really should be careful what we wish for.