The argument is over. The movement to prohibit private ownership of firearms has officially conceded defeat. The concession was made on Thursday by Chicago mayor Richard Daley, who responded to a press conference question about the effectiveness of Chicago’s gun ban by threatening to shove a rifle up the reporter’s fundament.
I’m not making this up. Daley held a press conference to discuss the city’s options should the Supreme Court overturn the ban on private gun ownership that has been in place in Chicago since 1982. In response to the irksome question Daley picked up a confiscated rifle from a display table and said, “It’s been very effective. If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective it is. I’ll put a round up your, you know...” The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass discusses the whole sorry episode in his column today.
There are many interesting things about this performance by a famously irascible mayor. But the really striking thing is the absence of any attempt to defend the gun ban by the least semblance of argument. Perhaps that’s because all but the most fossilized opponents of gun rights are realizing that prohibition really is a bad idea.
The argument is simple, and to simple minds like Mayor Daley’s, irrefutable: if the overwhelming majority of murders are committed with firearms, then all we have to do is prohibit firearms and the murder rate will plummet.
Except that banned objects remain stubbornly physical: they do not simply vanish into thin air. The criminals certainly aren’t going to turn in their guns; they don’t pay any attention to laws anyway. And there are millions of guns out there in the hands of non-criminals. If you really want to take them out of circulation, you are going to have to implement police measures so intrusive that even the ACLU might be made slightly uncomfortable, despite their notable vacillation on the Second Amendment, the only one they won’t go to the wall for.
Let’s say we get every bit as serious about taking guns out of circulation as we are about, say, drugs. We’ve had more than thirty years of the Drug War, complete with raided homes, asset confiscation and periodic police corruption scandals, and you can still get heroin, cocaine and meth in every city and county in the U.S. Can anyone possibly still believe we could get all the guns off the street? If we get as serious about guns as we are about drugs, the only thing that will happen is that the gun dealers will get richer and gun gangs will kill each other over turf the way drug gangs do now. (And meanwhile the woman whose gun gets confiscated won’t be able to shoot her psychotic ex-boyfriend when he comes after her with a butcher knife.)
You can’t eliminate something that people think they need and that can be easily concealed without draconian police state measures. You just can’t. If you’re honest, you’ll admit that. Ask Americans if they want to live in a police state, and they will tell you no. But in the same breath, too many of them will call for the government to get rid of things they don’t like, like guns or drugs or illegal immigrants. They don’t think through the consequences. And they only get outraged about the police state measures that affect people they like. How many of the people now sanctimoniously canceling their Arizona vacations have called for the government to confiscate their neighbors’ guns?
But now that Mayor Daley has tacitly admitted that there are no coherent arguments for banning private gun ownership, maybe we can start discussing measures that might really reduce gun violence. At the press conference Daley said that if the ban falls the city will consider implementing registration and training for firearms owners. Now that’s more like it. This is the conversation we should have been having all along. You stand a much better chance of reducing the social harm caused by dangerous objects and behaviors if they are legal, so that you can require training and impose reasonable registration requirements.
But the NRA Neanderthals oppose registration, you say? Of course they do. If Mayor Daley wanted to confiscate your car, you’d be reluctant to tell the city where your car was parked. Political resistance to registration will fade when people are certain that the Daleys of the world have given up trying to take their guns.
And that should happen soon, because anybody listening to Mayor Daley on Thursday saw that the argument is over. The gun nuts have won.