After the largest school shooting in American history, the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University that has taken the lives of more than 30 students and faculty and injured many more, we can expect to hear calls for more regulations and controls on the weapons Americans are permitted to purchase, own and carry. Just a couple years after Clinton’s Assault Weapons ban lapsed, we will probably be bombarded with the consensus of most politicians, talking heads and journalists — especially on the left and in the respectable center — that what the Virginia Tech shootings show is the need for more gun laws.
But we will also hear that the police need more power, resources and intelligence. They need to be more vigilant and ready to respond to such threats on a moment’s notice. We have already heard some blame the police for not responding within the reported two hour gap between the time the shootings began and the time the killer turned the gun on others and then himself. Others have defended the police officers, saying that we can’t expect them to have been able to predict an outcome as terrible as this. They expected the early shooting to have been an isolated incident, and acted on the best information they could.
And they do have a point, though it might not be what they think it is. There is no reason to expect the state to respond to a crisis like this, based on its experiences with crises in the past, and with its socialistic law enforcement incentives, any consistently better than it responds to economic calamity or confronts reality and withdraws from a foreign war once it is very clear it has lost it.
In consideration of how the state actually operates in its supposed attempts to protect the people, let us return to the idea of gun control, one of the major mechanisms by which law enforcement is claimed to make us safer.
To challenge this assumption, and the corollary that more gun laws are a proper response to the Virginia Tech tragedy, will almost surely be seen as heartless and dense, especially at this time. For, despite one’s political leanings, should we not sympathize for the humanity of those killed, wounded and forever traumatized in this act of barbarism? Well of course we should. What has happened is the very negation of the principles of civilization and humanity. And just as some are formulating their answers to this horrible atrocity along the lines of recommending more government, it is reasonable to ask now how this happened. (Leftists who find this simply not the time should remember that, as soon as 9/11 happened, some stood up in opposition to exploiting that tragedy as an excuse to attack liberty and invade foreign countries. Just as those in favor of expanding the state then acted quickly, it was fitting at the time to have libertarian responses just as quickly.)
Handguns must be more closely watched, or banned outright, we will be told. Assault rifles and armor-piercing bullets will also be condemned, though they apparently had nothing to do with this crime, which seems to have been committed with two handguns — a 9 mm and a .22. The NRA will even be blamed for all this, even though that organization favors plenty of the existing gun laws and has been known to advocate their more stringent enforcement. Already, the Brady Campaign is blaming this on the number of rounds permitted in a magazine. Why shouldn’t we concede that just a few u201Creasonableu201D measures are in order to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people?
The truth is the polar opposite of what the gun control advocates will conclude. For what we have at Virginia Tech is just one more example of gun control and government protection failing miserably at their advertised goals, and in fact making such a massacre more likely to begin with.
Back in early 2006, a plan in the Virginia legislature to allow for concealed carry on the state’s college campuses failed in subcommittee. A representative of Virginia Tech said that the bill’s defeat would make u201Cparents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.u201D
Perhaps it did make a lot of people feel safer. But the indisputable fact, which everyone should recognize by now, is that criminals don’t follow the law. Someone who is not going to obey laws against murder is not going to flinch at a law forbidding the carrying of weapons. And the notion that a gun law can eliminate weapons is just a fantasy, as any liberal who understands the failure of the drug war should by now see. Indeed, all these weapons prohibitions ever do is disarm those who are willing to follow the law, leaving them defenseless against criminals willing to break the law. Gun control rendered these students helpless, even as it did nothing to stop the killer.
The mentality of dependence that the leviathan state encourages with its wars, welfare state, gun control and public schools has also made would-be victims feel helpless whenever confronted by an actual threat. Today, Americans generally trust the state to protect them. But this trust is completely misplaced. In 1999, when two students slaughtered a dozen of their schoolmates and a teacher at Columbine, the Swat Team hesitated for a crucial period of time before storming the building — even as a student held a sign in the window declaring that a victim was bleeding to death within. On 9/11, the hijacked victims who heroically fought back stopped one plane from causing much more damage than it did, but on all four planes the passengers and pilots had been disarmed and thus were at a disadvantage against a handful of fanatics with boxcutters. There were also individual heroes at Virginia Tech, who worked to save lives despite being at the disadvantage of a criminal willing to break the law.
Now let me be clear. I do not wish to understate the horror of what any victim of such savage violent crimes go through. But the startling common thread throughout these massacres is the degree to which the government has claimed total control and promised total security. Public high schools and many colleges have long been deemed gun-free zones, as if this actually protects anyone. Airline security has long been the domain of the state, yet the state could do absolutely nothing to protect Americans on 9/11. And at Virginia Tech, the students had the false sense of security that because the government had greatly restricted their own right to bear arms at a public facility, they would be safe. Yet for two full hours, the police failed to stop the assailant between the time he began shooting and the time he killed many others and then himself. And, again, we have no reason to necessarily expect it to have gone any better.
In 2002, at Appalachian Law School in Virginia, a private institution, a school massacre was cut short when students resisted, one of them with a gun he had retrieved from his car. Yet, as some have pointed out, we hear little about such horrible crimes being stopped by private weapons ownership. Millions of times a year, criminals are preempted by Americans wielding private weapons. Studies indicate that well over ninety percent of the time, private individuals defend themselves with guns without ever firing a shot. You compare this caution and success to the record of government agents, who, knowing they will usually get away with negligent or even malicious violence, are increasingly likely to use overwhelming force against the peaceful.
On a fundamental level, gun control is actually in itself an act of gun violence. It is the use of force and threats of force against peaceful people for the purpose of depriving them of tools useful for self-defense. Surely, the state cannot pretend that such weapons do not have defensive purposes without admitting that the u201Cdefenseu201D it says it provides us, domestically with armed police and internationally with the armed military, is a sham. For the state to forbid others from having the same weapons it provides its own legions of armed forces at home and abroad, all funded through tax dollars, is the height of hypocrisy, as is the idea that pointing guns at peaceful people and hauling them off to jail if they violate gun control laws — which is what enforcement of such laws boils down to — is somehow a good way to combat gun violence.
It is curious that liberals who fancy themselves u201Ccivil libertariansu201D still defend the institution of gun control, which only monopolizes weapons in the hands of those least likely in a given crisis to have the opportunity to do good and most likely, historically speaking, to use them to do bad. Indeed, a look at the 20th century reveals a frightening pattern regarding weapons control: It preceded the major acts of genocide and government-led slaughter throughout the world. The Nazis and Communists always required that their subjects be disarmed. Gun control doesn’t always result in concentration camps, but it is much harder to displace, oppress or exterminate undesirables without it. In America’s own history, gun control has a legacy of racist tyranny —to disarm and thus control groups ranging from freed blacks to Italian immigrants (as was the case with the Sullivan Act). That gun control is a tool of the ruling class and a boon for private and political criminals should be obvious by now.
Gun control does not protect the innocent. It only renders the innocent all the more defenseless, empowers law enforcement in totalitarian ways, and facilitates the further construction of the police state. It is only one aspect of how the state claims to protect us, yet it only does the opposite.
There is no more important time to stand up for liberty than when crisis endangers it most. It is also an important time to reflect on how the state’s culture of obedience, blind trust in authority, centralized control and individual disarmament has actually rendered us less secure against threats both foreign and domestic.
At a time when the Bush administration has suspended habeas corpus, has shredded the Fourth Amendment, and respects virtually no limits on its power, one would hope that the usual proponents of gun control who oppose the administration see the severe danger in letting it impose more controls on our lives, and wage more wars on the Bill of Rights, this time with the pretense of protecting us against gun violence. The administration’s rounding up of private weapons in New Orleans after Katrina and Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq demonstrates its willingness to disarm populations when it is desirable and expedient from its point of view. The last thing we need is more support for further erosions of our liberty. It is time for some clear thinking about the way government has used massacres and other crises to warm the people up to its expansion and encroachment on precious freedoms. As Virginia Tech on 4/16 should show as clearly as the hijacked planes on 9/11, big government, central planning, and the systematic violence of gun control do not stop massacres; they only enable them.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.