Much of the presidential campaign – and in particular in the recent debates – has been devoted to the subject of control, the idea that with one more law or set of laws, with an expansion or just a tweak to regulations, with more exercise of governmental authority, we can achieve promised results.
One example of this is Donald Trump’s promises regarding immigration. According to his campaign’s website, he promises the construction of an “impenetrable wall” that Mexico will pay for, biometric verification of visas and tracking of people entering and exiting the country, and an unspecified effort to go after illegal immigrants receiving employment and government services.
And then there’s Hillary Clinton’s proposals for gun control. In a fact sheet put out by her campaign, she calls for expanding background checks to all gun sales, removing military-style assault weapons from our streets, and preventing prohibited persons such as domestic abusers and the mentally ill from getting guns, even if Congress won’t go along. In other statements, she supports the “no fly, no buy” mantra of the gun control groups who have endorsed her.
By now, these positions of the candidates are well known – repeated enough that they are clichés rather than ideas that register in the consciousness most of the time. What isn’t often considered is that the two sets of proposals have a lot in common. Both of them assume that policy measures imposed from Washington can cause significant change in behavior of ordinary people that is strongly motivated. That’s especially the case when the behavior in question is one that is perceived as an individual right.
One such example of this was our government’s attempt to ban the consumption of alcohol. Some meddlesome folks felt that the force of law was an appropriate means to barring choices that they didn’t like, and the glorious stubbornness of the American people put an end to that fantasy.
And regardless of the interests involved, with both Trump’s and Clinton’s platforms, there are practical matters that must be attended to. The number of guns in this country is a subject of dispute. The study done by Harvard and Northeastern Universities to be published next year estimates 265 million, while others put the number much higher. Nevertheless, the total is high enough that insisting on background checks being performed on each gun sale is a pipe dream if any sizable percentage of gun owners refuse to comply. The same is true about so-called assault weapons – the latter supported by the non-compliance rate with the NY SAFE Act.
In the same way, the idea that we can somehow seal a 2,000 mile long border and remove 11.1 million persons from a country as large as ours is akin to plans for managing unicorn herds. As long as there are jobs that need filling and a population that likes cheap food and housekeeping, there will be a strong demand for unskilled laborers.
The point of all of this is that any program that is proposed must meet both the requirement of respecting rights, but also pragmatic considerations. No matter how desirable a policy is, if it won’t work, any effort at trying anyway will be a waste of time and money – and potentially lives, if force is involved.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.
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