Why we don’t trust gun control

If you were unfortunate enough to catch the final 2016 presidential debate, you may recall Hillary Clinton’s most bald-faced lie: that the Heller decision was about toddlers, guns, and accidental deaths. It’s difficult to express how comprehensively this is untrue.

The Supreme Court described the law at issue in DC v. Heller as a ‘total handgun ban’. This is not in any way in dispute. The word ‘toddler’ appears nowhere in any of the opinions, nor does it appear in oral argument. The word ‘child’ appears only in Breyer’s dissent, and comes up a few times in the oral argument transcript. In the latter case, though, the context is a discussion of the safe storage requirements imposed by the DC law1. In any event, the children under discussion are, depending on your statistical source, all people under the age of 14, or all people under the age of 18. Hardly ‘toddlers’.

So, there’s nothing in the court’s final decision, and very little in the supporting material, to suggest the primary issue at hand was anything but the aforementioned total handgun ban. And yet, Hillary brought up DC v. Heller as a case in which the Supreme Court failed to properly apply the Second Amendment. Put another way, she supports the DC law as written.

Why might she have chosen to express her position using toddlers as a framing device, then? One possibility is that it’s simple scoring of cheap political points. This is almost certainly the case. However, I posit that it is not the only cause here. I take Hillary at face value when she says that she feels accidental deaths by toddler with gun are a problem worth tackling2. I also take her at face value when she argues that DC v. Heller was a bad application of the Second Amendment. Taken together, what does that mean? Preventing the vanishingly small number of accidental gun deaths among youth per year is an admirable goal, and a complete ban on handguns is a proportional effort to make in service of that goal.

As a gun rights guy, this is a completely terrifying line of reasoning. The right to armed self-defense (whether against petty crime by petty criminals, or high crimes by petty politicians) is a fundamental right, however out of vogue it may be most places in the world. Subjecting fundamental rights to utilitarian arguments is a real slippery slope, not the fallacious kind a particular set of internet leftists are so eager to throw a flag on. There is literally nothing, legally speaking, which distinguishes the First Amendment from the Second. If you’re attacking one on utilitarian grounds, you’re opening the door for an attack on the other.

Leaving aside that argument, though, consider the end result of such utilitarian reasoning. If fewer guns in private hands reduces deaths (which is not settled science, but we, like the gun control supporters, will momentarily assume it to be true), and if government has a responsibility to reduce deaths to as near zero as possible, then the government has a compelling interest in reducing the stock of privately-owned firearms to zero. This chain of reasoning underpins the thinking of every major advocate of gun control.

Don’t believe me? How often have you heard gun control advocates express admiration for the gun laws in Australia or England? If you’re paying attention, the answer is ‘all time time’. Those two countries have de facto gun bans, and de jure gun bans on anything you might be able to reliably use for self-defense. It’s the same in New York, where a recent report blames lax gun laws elsewhere for criminal firearms violence in New York. (As opposed to, y’know, New York’s violent criminals.) The solution? Stronger gun laws elsewhere! Stronger laws in New York, even!

So, gun control supporters, I ask you this: are you for banning guns? If so, good for you; that’s a reasonable position, if one I completely disagree with. Come right out and say that, because it’s a very different position than ‘reasonable regulations’. People deserve to know exactly where you stand. If you do like the sound of ‘reasonable regulations’ but not ‘total gun ban’, then I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re a patsy for the total gun ban people. They aren’t planning to stop with the gun show loophole (not a thing), the online loophole (also not a thing), better mental health reporting, or anything that sounds good to you. They will exploit your vote as far as you’re willing to give it to them, then they’ll dump you and find the next group of suckers willing to vote for them. Bear that in mind when you go to the ballot box tomorrow.

  1. ‘Disassembled and nonfunctional’.
  2. She’s allowed to feel that way, but frankly, they aren’t a problem worth tackling, at least not by federal law. I cite a David Mitchell sketch as evidence for this.

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