No single issue in the American political arena illustrates the similarity of American liberals and American conservatives than the issue of gun control. This claim will no doubt appear counterintuitive, because conservatives and liberals have been bickering over gun rights for as long as anyone can remember. Liberals love gun control and conservatives loathe it. The difference between the two groups couldn’t be starker, right?
What all the superficial bickering between the two groups conceals, however, is a fundamental agreement that gun control can actually work. Starry-eyed liberals believe that government is indeed capable of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, as if would-be-armed-robbers actually care whether or not it is legal to own guns. Conservatives innocently fear that government is capable of keeping guns out of the hands of all ordinary Americans, as if government prohibition has ever actually worked. Both groups, in other words, believe that if the government chooses to control or outlaw something, its laws will actually make that thing disappear.
It doesn’t take a degree in economics, however, to realize that both groups are hopelessly mistaken to think that gun control can actually work. Conservatives are wrong to fear that government can effectively control or prohibit anything, including guns, and liberals are wrong to believe that government gun control will keep guns out of the hands of would-be criminals.
In order to see why this is true, one need only take a look at how well drug prohibition has been in the United States. Certain “drugs” have been prohibited in the United States for generations, and yet they are still so plentifully available that you even find them in American prisons. Marijuana got to be so plentiful and cheap in the early 1980’s, in fact, that drug smugglers had to start looking around for more profitable drugs to sell, like cocaine. The same thing happened later on to cocaine as more and more smugglers (including Ronald Reagan’s CIA and Bill Clinton’s buddies in Arkansas) stepped in to supply more cocaine, and prices fell through the floor to the point that crack cocaine was available virtually everywhere. The same was true of alcohol during prohibition. The point is; if the government’s laws have completely failed to eliminate the market for drugs, what on Earth could make anyone believe their laws will actually eliminate the market for guns? Sure, prices will be higher than they otherwise would be without asinine gun laws, but let’s at least be honest and admit that the gun market in the United States isn’t going away anytime soon.
In addition to the obvious failure of drug prohibition in the United States, there are dozens of examples of how gun control has failed internationally. In Brazil, for example, more than half of the guns in the country are estimated to be unregistered – which is to say, they are illegal. In Mexico there is exactly one legal firearm dealer in the whole country, while there are approximately 250,000 guns smuggled into the country every year illegally. I was told by several Palestinians in the West Bank during a recent trip (where guns are basically completely illegal) that you could even buy American-made M-16’s if you have enough money, or settle for cheaper AK-47’s if you don’t. If people want guns, there will be people who are willing to sell them. Duh.
These points should be obvious to anyone who has ever been around gun people in the United States. To be sure, there are some Americans who own guns (usually inherited from their fathers) and who don’t care about them or don’t even know how to use them. These people would probably even hand over their guns to the government unhesitatingly if they were told to do so. But there is a different type of American gun owner who is not about to hand over his guns, no matter what the laws say. To this type of gun owner, the spread of gun laws is interpreted as a sign that he needs to buy more 6″ PVC pipe to bury in his yard. To think that this type of gun owner will be disarmed by a bunch of thieves and blowhards in Washington is beyond naïve. His guns may go in the ground or in the wall for safekeeping, but they sure as hell won’t wind up in a government scrap heap.
Liberals who think this type of gun owner can be disarmed by government fiat are completely delusional, and so are conservatives who fear that gun control is going to lead to widespread surrender of arms. Gun control laws will only disarm those that don’t care about guns in the first place. Everyone else will be able to find and buy guns just as easily as they can find and buy crack cocaine or meth, which is to say that it will still be insanely easy. You will probably even see guns popping up alongside drugs in prisons, like in Latin America, if gun control is ever really enforced in the United States. If history is any guide, the ATF and the CIA will probably be the biggest black market suppliers, as they were with heroin and cocaine.
None of this is to downplay either the sheer idiocy or the other evil effects that gun control laws will have on the United States if they continue to proliferate as they recently have been. Inducing Americans to bury the guns that they use to protect their homes and their families will definitely lead to more needless robbery and murder. Inducing Americans to make their firearm purchases from the same people that try to sell meth to their children will definitely and needlessly hurt a lot of people. Inducing the gun market to go black will definitely raise prices for guns above their current level. And arresting people for “illegally” carrying guns to defend themselves is the very definition of tyranny.
The point is simply that gun control cannot and will not eliminate the market for guns in America. Since this is the major selling point for gun control, the debate will continue to be an idiotic and pointless mess until people start to realize guns can’t be eliminated by government fiat. If libertarians and conservatives concede that government prohibition can work, (as many foolish conservatives who believe in drug prohibition have to), they will lose the argument. Drug prohibition has been a complete and utter failure, and gun control will be too.
This is the most effective and honest argument that libertarians and conservatives can make.