Thursday, March 14, 2013


The current push to limit the types of guns and the number of bullets per magazine that US citizens can use will likely lead to the opposite of the intended effect. Safety is promised but danger will result. Saving life is assured but lives lost is guaranteed.

It is argued that deranged individuals are able to do a great deal of harm because they  have access to powerful weapons and access to magazines that house a large number of rounds. To reduce the amount of harm that an individual can do, it is theorized that a killer's rampage would be impeded if he only had access to a gun that delivered a limited number of bullets per second and if he had  to change magazines more frequently.

This sounds reasonable to many people. Parallels can be drawn to speed limit laws where constraining the speed at which cars are driven reduce the chances of accidents and also the amount of harm that results if accidents do happen. If speed limits are rightfully based on harm reduction benefits, it is then said to follow that harm reduction is an acceptable basis for legally limiting the types of guns and the number of rounds per magazine.

These justifications of legal limitations on firearms, as reasonable as they sound, are entirely wrong because they  are based on incorrectly applied commonalities shared by  vehicles and firearms.

One such misapplication stems from the
failure to make a distinction between how  vehicles and firearms are utilized in  public spaces. Regarding cars, their utility is almost exclusively relegated to  public spaces which is also where speed limits apply. If a citizen wanted to drive her car at 200 miles an hour on her private land, she is free to do so. When she ventures onto public roads, she is constrained by the law because her behavior is likely to affect other law-abiding citizens.  

On the other hand, firearms are almost exclusively utilized in private spaces (e.g. target ranges).  Only when in transit do firearms cross public space and even so, are not in the state of utility but rather in a state of transit and proximity. That is to say that they are carried into public space in a dormant condition in order to be near their owners in case the need for them emerge. Laws can be and are applied to the handling of firearms in public spaces but extending the nature of these laws to limit the types of weapons citizens can hold and the number rounds magazines can contain penetrates into private space in ways that vehicular laws do not.  

Firearms are almost never utilized in public spaces unless the condition of a general breakdown of law occurs. If this indeed happens (as it it did in the 1992 Los Angeles riots and every time an armed robbery occurs), force may be needed to preserve order and safety. In these circumstances, there is no perceivable advantage gained by disallowing certain types of weapons and limiting ammunition volumes. Even a  temporary absence of effective public law enforcement requires that citizens undertake the task of preserving the peace (even if only in the space directly around them) and it seems unwise to deprive private citizens of the level of firepower that is deemed necessary by public law enforcers to achieve the same goal. 

Another misapplication of the vehicular/firearms parallel is related to way that the legal limits affect the utility of the  tools. In the case of cars, legal speed limits only constrain  the immediate discretionary speed. Speed limits do not require that a car be physically restricted to driving at a particular speed. To do so would affect the utility of the car in other jurisdictions and circumstances. Because cars are not just used in playground zones but also on freeways, laws must be aimed at discretionary behavior rather than physical allowances of the machine.  

Beyond needing to drive on freeways that require high speeds, vehicles are sometimes driven in bad neighborhoods and in mountain passes where moments of urgency or desperation arise and the constraints of the law must be overridden for safety or the preservation of life. When under threat of avalanches or marauding gangs, citizens may be compelled to exceed a 30 mile an hour speed limit.  

Similarly, firearms are called into service in varying circumstances. Sometimes they are called into service for hunting and target shooting. Other times they are needed to ward off gangs of attackers. To set limits on firepower fails to accommodate the varying circumstances in which firearms are required. 

As an illustration, take a citizen's home  under attack by a gang of three men. Even if the attackers were to adhere to the magazine limit themselves, their bullet count is thirty against her ten. The citizen is in a tight spot. She can't waste any bullets as warning shots. Every bullet has to count.  Instead of the legal limit of bullets per magazine reducing the harm that is done, greater harm is realized because expending rounds as warnings is not in the citizen's interest. Every shot must go through a person. Alternatively, the attackers could just draw her shots and count them down till her magazine was empty.

Limiting the options that citizens have puts them in danger and increases the odds of dangerous escalations.

Beyond all these arguments, US citizens have the right to own firearms as spelled out by the constitution with no constraint on type or magazine size. The right to own firearms is only incidental to hunting, target shooting and defense against harm from the lawless. The right is primarily for the purpose of defending all other rights that are inscribed in the constitution. As such, all efforts to restrict  citizen ownership of guns, even the most sincere, must be countered diligently.

A citizenry unable to defend itself against illegal power of the state is ultimately a vassal of the state. A member of such a citizenry would find her private safety and her need to provide for herself using her own means becoming increasingly irrelevant or even contrary to the interests of the state.

The safety and sanctity of her life that was assured by those who wish to restrict firearms will become only wishful dreams fading in the mists of history.

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