I scoff at the circular wisdom of the "If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns" sticker on the pre-seat belt, car-boat. "If 2+2=4, then 4+4=8" is an equally informative guide to social policy. I want to confront its cigarette-smoking driver with photos of kids shot dead.
And while I’m at it, of lungs turned black.
Guns are consumer items, whether mentioned in the Constitution, the Bible or John Brown’s diary. They are dangerous, explosive, and capable of indiscriminate damage. Opposition to any form of regulation in a country
that licenses hair dressers without libertarian complaint is ideological claptrap.
Yet I was disturbed by how easily I fell into the admonishing role; by how many of his faults I would protect him from. I oscillated between my Department of Corrections mode and respect for his leave-me-alone affect.
And maybe he wasn’t just shooting blanks.
For the demagoguery of his sticker masks the fact that if guns are outlawed, millions of Americans will still have them. They are a pre-existing condition. And how would we lose countless concealable, replaceable, and desired consumer items? Door-to-door confiscation? A national frisk?
As the technology of state surveillance is perfected, the literal demand to eliminate guns invites a social policy that is itself dangerous, explosive, and ultimately indiscriminate; one which also ignores the paradoxical lessons of prohibition-the Viagra of the forbidden.
Even an appeal to public safety is not a pat hand. The bare fact that thousands of Americans would avoid death or paralysis if there were fewer guns doesn’t necessarily outweigh the practical and constitutional problems inherent in their elimination. Thousands of Americans would avoid death or paralysis by strictly enforcing a national speed limit of 30 mph.
Yet we would be up in arms against that.
The paper criminalization of common practice is corrupting, inefficient and self delusional. Incremental policies cheapen our tragedies, yet blanket calls for confiscation lend credence to the slippery slopers, thwarting even modest reform.
My approach (mercifully unfettered by details) to blending the protective and libertarian claims on our national soul begins by shedding the emotive luggage carried by guns as either freedom sticks or devil sticks. They are just devices that should be given a special status—and perhaps a special name: Closely Tolerated Adult Toys.
Mandatory technological modifications would maximize safe use on their own terms, and public service announcements would stress their legal and physical dangers. Though commercially available, CTAT’s could not be promoted or glorified.
And we would rain our collective wrath upon those who abuse our public tolerance: commit a violent crime using weapons; put a gun in the hands of an unsupervisedy youngster; show a kid how to make a weapon, and go directly and deeply to jail. Sit. Stay.
But we would also institutionalize the presumption that simple gun ownership does not a criminal make. Leave grown ups alone with their stupid fire sticks while cutting the legs from opportunistic reference to the slippery slope into despotism.
This approach is designed to protect us from each other individually, in the form of anti-social behavior, and from each other collectively, in the form of state coercion. It is designed to garner unstoppable support for real change and might, if successful, be applied to other, dysfunctionally forbidden fruit.