Recent years have seen a sea change in debates over public policy issues. Whether a proposed policy would be good for the nation, would actually help solve the problem being addressed or even if the proposal is constitutional is rarely given more than lip service by partisans on either side of the issue. What seems to be most important is racking up a score against the other party to use against it in the next election cycle.
Take gun control.
The debate always moves into the usual rhetoric between folks who believe they are ultimately responsible for their own safety and those who believe citizens must rely on the state for protection.
The only sure way to prevent gun violence would be for the federal government to pick up every firearm in the country. That’s not possible and isn’t going to happen. What does happen is that restricters whittle away at which firearms are allowed.
Among the first to go were fully automatic firearms, or machine guns. The ban was the result of their popularity with gangsters of the 1920s and ’30s. Next in line were poorly made, inexpensive handguns and sawed-off shotguns. The argument against these was also that they were used chiefly by criminals and had no legitimate use.
As crime rates continued to climb, gun banners decided the problem must lie with firearms that looked like military arms. So the ban on so-called assault rifles was passed. One of the goofiest laws ever concocted, this banned certain types of firearms based on, among other things, how the gun looked.
In order to muster the votes necessary to pass the ban, supporters had to give a little and included a sunset clause. Now, nearly a decade later, the ban is coming up for renewal and once again we’re told it saves lives. But does it?
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control examined crime data from around the country to find out how effective gun control laws are. CDC researchers found little evidence such laws really do reduce crime. To be fair, the study also found little evidence that bans don’t reduce crime, either. That being the case, we have to come down on the side of increasing freedom and doing away with such dubious bans as applied to law-abiding gun owners.
That’s what most folks in Congress want, too. The renewal of the ban on so-called assault weapons faces an uphill battle when it expires in September. And as might be expected, ban supporters are attempting to use recent crimes as evidence to extend the ban.
New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is one of the primary supporters of the original ban and the proposed extension. McCarthy gained recognition and her seat in Congress after her husband was killed and her son was wounded in a shooting on the Long Island Rail Way in 1993.
McCarthy is using last year’s Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks as excuses to extend an unnecessary ban. “Let’s learn a lesson from what happened in D.C. when a lone sniper could take down a whole city. People were terrified,” she said recently. We would remind McCarthy and others of a like mind that although the rifle used by John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in last year’s shootings was a military-looking rifle, all of their victims were killed with a single shot. The ban on so-called assault rifles, even if it worked on criminals, would not have had any effect on those crimes.
If Congress insists on passing laws that restrict our freedoms in attempts to supposedly protect us, it must do so based on facts and provable data, not frightening, but incorrect rhetoric.