It was predictable for anti-gun activists to surface after the Tucson tragedy of Jan. 8. Some are the same opportunists who tried blaming the attempted assassination of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, but others aren’t political. They’re simply gun-shy. It’s a condition, I suppose, or at least a phobia, beyond the reach of reason.
Gun-shy folk have this much in common with gun-enthusiasts.
Guns are loved and hated irrationally. Some people admire firearms, collect them, fondle them, all but have sex with them. Others abhor guns, consider them pornographic, react to them as Victorians did to risqué remarks. Both types are equally alien to me, but they aren’t equal.
Former Toronto mayor David Miller was gun-shy. (I imagine he still is.) He tried making Toronto a gun-free zone, or said he would. He wanted Torontonians to have no guns, gun clubs, gun collections or shooting ranges within the city limits. He himself had no guns, presumably, or any interest in shooting.
Had the former mayor been a gun enthusiast, much as he may have collected guns and visited shooting ranges himself, I doubt if he would have tried obliging his fellow Torontonians to do so.
Here’s the difference. Those who love guns rarely demand that you share their admiration, but those who hate guns demand that you share their aversion. Firearm-philiacs make no attempt to persuade, let alone oblige, anyone to have a love affair with guns, but firearm-phobiacs use the law at every turn to make their hatred obligatory. Gun-lovers understand something about freedom; gun-haters understand only coercion. In the gun debate, the peaceniks are the bullies.
What about the merits of the debate? Immaterial. Love and hate are beyond debate. Ex-mayor Miller, for instance, used to talk about public safety. He and I may not have shared many soft spots, but I’d defy anyone to have a softer spot for public safety than me. I pose no threat to my townspeople and I prefer my townspeople to pose no threat to me. Yet the same goal — public safety — would lead Miller and me to entirely different policies. His instinct would be to control guns; mine, to control crime.
Gun-control advocates would disarm the harmless, and leave them defenceless against the harmful they can’t disarm. If I couldn’t disarm the harmful, which would be my first choice, my second choice would be to arm the harmless, or at least encourage them to arm themselves.
Disarming the harmless is easier, of course. Passing a law is all it takes. People who don’t much shoot people pay attention to laws. Many even pay attention to bylaws. Pass a bylaw that says “give up your guns, please” and by golly, they’ll give ’em up.
In contrast, disarming the harmful may be impossible. They’re scofflaws. They don’t obey.
Politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. Mayors are politicians, practical people, favouring practical solutions. Passing laws for the law-abiding is practical because they’ll generally abide by them, while passing laws for the lawless is impractical for they will rarely do so.
For politicians, the matter seems simple. Only impractical people advocate measures that depend for success on compliance by the lawless — they say — when with the same effort they could put laws on the books that depend for success on compliance by the law-abiding. What’s the use of passing laws that people don’t obey, such as “thou shalt not kill?” We’ve hundreds of such laws on the books. “Don’t carry illicit handguns; don’t peddle illicit drugs; don’t shoot up the neighbourhood.” They’re all laws that cost a mint to enforce, to little avail. The practical thing is to pass laws that people do obey, such as “no shooting ranges within Toronto city limits.” Switching from low-compliance-rate laws to high-compliance-rate laws is the ticket.
It’s a ticket, all right — but a ticket to what? If the destination is public safety, gun collectors aren’t in the way, either in Toronto or Tucson. Citizens using guns in self-defence aren’t in the way, either. They aren’t making our cities unsafe. What makes our cities unsafe is drug-dealing youth gangs shooting at each other and hitting passers-by. Or deranged individuals hearing voices that urge them to shove people in front of subways. Or the authorities defending shoplifters against shopkeepers more keenly than shopkeepers against shoplifters, as they did in Toronto last year.
Outlawing shooting ranges within the city limits won’t change that. No passer-by has ever been shot at a Toronto shooting range. Threats to public safety don’t come from insufficient laws but insufficient people: teenage mothers, drug culture, youth gangs, mental illness. The problem? Try political correctness, self-censoring politicians, irresolute courts, hamstrung police. People obeying good laws reduces crime; good people obeying bad laws reduces only freedom.
One cannot restrict the defiant by constraining the compliant. A law that obliged everybody within Toronto city limits to breathe would bring 100% compliance from the living and no significant change of behaviour from anyone else.
Original source: National Post, Jan 18, 2011