In the wake of one more mass shooting in the USA, at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, there are the inevitable cries for tougher gun legislation. Along with the accusation that the NRA is holding Americans hostage, in the supposed interest of corporate profits. It all plays well on the left.
But it is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense.
I have no love for guns. I do not hunt. I certainly make no money from guns. But there is just no reason to suppose that more restrictions on gun ownership would do any good, and there is reason to believe they would do harm. The circumstances in Texas demonstrate why. The shooter had no legal right under current law to own a gun. So tougher laws would have done nothing to stop him. The shooting spree was stopped, on the other hand, by a neighbour in legal possession of a gun. Tougher laws might have taken that gun out of his hands.
This should not be hard to understand: if you are not going to obey the laws against murder, why would you obey the laws against gun ownership?
So calling for tougher gun laws is like supposing a flock without a shepherd is safer from wolves. A lot of people at all times make that argument, but it is nuts and will always be nuts.
Ah, gun control advocates will say, look at the statistics. The US has a relatively high number of guns in private hands, and it has relatively many mass shootings. And this does seem to make intuitive sense. If there are more guns around, surely they are more likely to be used too. And if there are more guns, there are more guns liable to fall into the wrong hands.
But look at the statistics. Here is a chart published recently in the New York Times, not a source sympathetic to guns. There is no relationship between number of guns owned and the incidence of mass shootings. If there were, the dots should all line up in single file along an imaginary perpendicular line, running from bottom left to top right. They plainly do not. Finland and Switzerland, for example, have very high rates of private gun ownership; but very low rates of gun violence. And this, after all, makes sense: if more guns are liable to fall into the wrong hands, more guns are also liable to fall into the right hands. If everyone owned and carried a gun, that might actually be the best way to end gun violence. It would be like the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction among nations: pull out a gun, and you are instantly in a Mexican standoff. There is probably a reason why these mass shootings almost always happen in designated “gun-free zones.”
Aside from these comparative statistics among countries, consider too comparing the statistics over time. Over the past fifty years, American gun laws have become progressively more strict. Over the same time period, mass shootings have become progressively more common.
After all, if you think about it, guns are actually more valuable for defending against mass murder than they are for committing mass murder. As we have seen repeatedly, it is as easy to kill large numbers of people, if that is your goal, with a bomb, with a vehicle, or with an airplane. The aggressor has the advantage of time to prepare, and can rig up any number of different methods. It is the defender who does not have time, who cannot prepare, who must be able to react quickly and with some precision. The gun is the ideal weapon in this case.
Moreover, there is a reason why Finland and Switzerland have high rates of gun ownership. And it is instructive. The high rate of gun ownership is mandated by government and intended to make those two countries unconquerable. Historically, it has worked. Since Napoleon, nobody has been foolish enough to invade little Switzerland. The Soviet Union was dumb enough to invade little Finland in 1939, and had their big red butts kicked. Any invader faces a fully armed populace, impossible to pacify. The regular army can, if necessary, draft civilians as soldiers and expect them to know immediately how to use a gun effectively in battle.
Currently, the USA has something of the same advantage. And the USA has many foreign enemies.
At the same time, for much the same reason, as the framers of the US Constitution well understood, an armed populace is a guarantee against oppressive government.
Have you ever wondered why democracy came early to England, and not to so many other nations?
Chalk it up to the deadly English longbow. English yeomen trained it its use as a matter of public duty. And the great thing about the English longbow is that it could take down a man on horseback, in full armour. As was demonstrated so well at Agincourt.
This meant that the nobles, who could afford pricey things like armour and horses, simply could not dictate to the yeomen. Any man in his home might, if he felt it necessary, hold off the local noble. If his neighbours agreed, the government was suddenly in big trouble.
Everything else emerged from this. A man's home became his castle—because it could in fact be defended. Cooperation and persuasion became the rule of English life.
The traditional Swiss pike and pike formation worked in a similar way. It was proof against a cavalry charge. The commons had to be convinced, not ruled.
Accordingly, having fewer guns in fewer hands would seem to do no good, and would seem to hold the potential to do great harm.
So why the eternal demand for more gun control?
I think it plays to a common human urge to deny the existence of moral evil. After all, if we accept that there is evil, we must next examine our own acts. Better to blame some inanimate object.