Why the Gun Control Movement Is Doomed

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I have watched the gun control movement become a major voice against gun ownership over the last 40 years. What has most impressed me is this: this movement has been unsuccessful in disarming Americans. The demand for guns keeps rising.

I have known the leaders of the gun ownership movement. Larry Pratt is the head of the lobbying group, Gun Owners of America. He has held that position for as long as the organization has existed. It began in 1975. The founder of the organization, H. L. “Bill” Richardson, was a state senator in California. I do not recall when I first met him, but it was probably sometime around 1967. I met Pratt no later than 1969, and it may have been earlier. I have watched Gun Owners of America grow into a major sounding board for those who want to preserve Second Amendment freedoms. There are a number of lobbying organizations that promote gun ownership, but Gun Owners of America is generally regarded as hard-core. It does not recommend making political deals with those who would control legal access to firearms.

These mass murderers are almost always on prescription mood-altering drugs. The mainstream media rarely mention this. Every time that there is an incident where the latest drug-crazed shooter kills a number of people, there is a strong push by the gun control movement to get all guns banned. In contrast, every time some elderly lady shoots an intruder who had invaded her home, there is a brief story about this in the local newspaper. I have known for over 40 years that reporting in the major media is skewed in favor of the gun control movement.

In the years that I have known Richardson and Pratt, I have watched the gun control movement attempt to ban access to firearms, and in virtually all cases, it has failed. Guns are as plentiful today at gun shows as they were 40 years ago. We see billboards promoting gun shows in small towns across the South. I do not know if they have comparable sized shows outside of the South, but in the South, they are well attended.

There is more registration than was required 40 years ago, but there has been no concerted effort to move from gun registration to gun confiscation. With computerization, the possibility exists, but the manpower required to enforce such a ban of weapons would be astronomical.


Some laws are inherently unenforceable. We know that the laws are unenforceable among urban gang members. Gang members are among the best-armed civilians in the world. Gangs have more firepower than most local police departments. They do not use this firepower against what they would regard as the civilian population. They use the weapons against other gang members.

There is no way in the United States that the federal government could gain access to the weapons of the country without threatening extremely high fines or other penalties. It is unlikely that Congress will enact legislation that would authorize some system of draconian imposition of fines or jail sentences for violators.

The sheer volume of guns owned by Americans precludes the ability of the federal government to confiscate anything like 80% of the weapons. The kinds of people who own weapons are the kinds of people who resist bureaucratic intrusions into their lives. It is not like Americans in 1933, who surrendered gold coins in the darkest days of the Great Depression. They did not view gold coins as basic to their rights as citizens. They were incorrect in this regard, but there has never been the degree of commitment to the ownership of gold coins that there has been to the ownership of firearms.

Who would enforce the ban? I do not think that it will be local sheriffs. It may be local police departments, but local law enforcement agencies do not like to think of themselves as being unpaid enforcers of federal regulators. Cooperation will be limited, at best.

Any attempt by the federal government to enforce such a law will be met by foot-dragging. We will see lots of interest in ways of slowing down the bureaucratic machine. Paperwork, not armed resistance, is the weapon of choice in dealing with bureaucrats. The more paperwork that non-cooperative citizens can force the bureaucracy to go through, the less likely the bureaucracy is going to be able to implement its task of confiscating the guns of the United States. It is easy to jam the system, and with computers, it becomes even easier. I started writing about this over 25 years ago, when desktop computers were a novelty. I said that the microcomputer was the Saturday Night Special of resistance. Now the tablet has replaced it.


I realize that a lot of Americans believe that the federal government is ready to take action against gun owners. Rhetoric aside, where is the evidence that the President is actively pursuing any such goal? I think the best indication of Obama’s commitment to this is that he has put Joe Biden in charge of the whole operation. The Vice President has no power, and of recent Vice Presidents, Joe Biden is something of a laughingstock. He is no Dick Cheney.

Every time there is some major shooting, the media insist that legislation will soon be passed to outlaw assault rifles. It is conceivable that Congress will pass a ban on certain kinds of assault rifles, but that will have essentially zero affect in keeping assault rifles out of the hands of drug-crazed psychotics. There will be more shootings, and there will be more calls to ban more assault rifles, but the failure of the legislation to stop the shootings will testify against the effectiveness of further legislation.

The fact that no legislation has been introduced as a result of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings tells me that this lame-duck Congress is not interested in pursuing the matter. It has other fish to fry.

If the new House of Representatives is ready to cooperate with the Senate in passing legislation against assault rifles, then we may see such legislation. But what would motivate Republicans to cooperate? What is in it for them? Why would they want to face the wrath of their constituents in order to pass a piece of legislation previous Congresses have resisted for 40 years?

I do not believe that voters in favor of gun ownership should back off and let politicians have a free ride their attempts to restrict legal access to guns in the United States. I do not think it is wise to give a free ride to any political group that wants to interfere with constitutional liberties. I think people should support lobbying agencies that are in favor of gun ownership. Nevertheless, I do not think they should do this on the assumption that the end of gun ownership is imminent, because it isn’t. I think they should do it on the assumption that the Constitution is on their side, and that the gun control movement is taking a stand against three centuries of American liberties.

The fact that the gun control movement has been politically impotent, or close to it, for a generation is not a good reason to sit back and let them browbeat squishy Congressman who were elected by voters who are in favor of gun ownership. If pro-Second Amendment voters remain silent, they will give an illusion to politicians that there will not be a backlash against anyone who breaks ranks and votes in favor gun control. We have to remind people in Congress that they can lose votes if they get wobbly on gun ownership. As Bill Richardson taught me over 40 years ago, politics is mostly about inflicting pain on politicians who deviate from a particular agenda. Politicians respond to pain, he taught me, and I watched him develop tactics that were specially designed to impose pain on those who favored gun control. He did this at the state level, and his organization has done it nationally


Within a decade, it will be possible for people to manufacture handguns inexpensively in their own homes. Even if it takes two decades, it is clear what is going to come. The ability of the government to confiscate handguns is surely limited when somebody can download a free piece of software that will enable him to manufacture a handgun, or the components of a handgun, in the privacy of his own home. The Left is now facing an ideological crisis. Either it bans 3D printers, raising civil rights issues, or else it must give up having any shot at banning guns.

The ability of the gun control crowd to control the spread of weapons across the face of the earth is going to decline dramatically over the next 10 years or 20 years. This is the last gasp of the entire movement. The 20th century will go down in history as the era of gun control. The 21st century is going to be knon as a century in which the common man, around the world, becomes a gun owner.

I think it is a good idea for people to purchase those items that they want to own, and which are legal for them to own. They tend to do this in times of panic, when prices have been bid up. But, in my view, it is better to buy an artificially or temporarily high-priced item than it is to wait. It is best to take action when you are motivated to take action. Otherwise, procrastination wins out again.

December 22, 2012

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 31-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2012 Gary North