The New Yorker’s John Cassidy calls for fact-based gun policies in his latest column: “Let’s Get the Facts to Reduce Gun Violence.” President Obama might want to try this approach instead of trotting out letter-reading third graders to make his case for more gun-control legislation.
Cassidy thinks the federal government should bankroll gun-safety studies. He cites federally commissioned road-safety studies as “a model.” But unlike your need for speed, your right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally protected. And even if the studies found that gun ownership is positively associated with gun deaths, what then? If Congress did decide to legislate according to those findings by outlawing guns, that decision would run afoul of the supreme law of the land.
If funded, gun-safety studies might uncover some interesting tidbits. They might show that certain firearms are more closely associated with accidental fatalities than others. Or they might provide an indication that most gun violence is committed using handguns.
But studies are often unreliable, so even if Obama had the constitutional authority to ban guns based on the results of gun-safety studies, it might not be a good idea to do so. According to federal road-safety studies dating back to the 1960s — studies that Cassidy cites — vehicle speed and road deaths are positively correlated. These studies have led some policymakers to call for jurisdictions to lower their speed limits. But some more recent studies have found that vehicle speeds are not positively associated with road deaths. The New York Times attributes the decline in traffic fatalities in recent decades to things like safer cars and better, though not necessarily slower, driving. In an article advocating fact-based legislation, Cassidy unintentionally demonstrates that you can’t always trust government-funded studies to give you “the facts” on road safety or gun safety.
In any case, history has shown that legislators tend to base laws on political and economic considerations, not facts. For example, even after the federal studies that claimed a link between vehicle speed and road deaths were released, speed limits were only lowered to increase fuel economy.
But even if legislators had accurate information on gun safety, it’s very hard to imagine the federal government actually ridding the streets of the implicated guns. Cities, states and the federal government have pretty spotty track records when it comes to enforcing their existing gun-control laws. In fact, illegal guns are so readily available that one of Obama’s 23 proposed executive actions on guns was “Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.” It’s also important to note that many of the guns used in recent mass shootings were either illegally obtained or not registered to the shooter.
What I trust for guidance on gun legislation is the Constitution. And last time I checked, the Second Amendment had no clause exempting infringements on rights based on taxpayer-funded studies. Pouring tax dollars into studies of unenforceable, unconstitutional gun-control laws is probably not the wisest use of our money.
Cathy Reisenwitz writes for Doublethink magazine and Thoughts on Liberty and vlogs at The Libertarienne Show. Her writing has appeared on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist and the Individualist Feminist.