This week Boston’s Mayor Menino testified before the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns. He had this to say:
We share a common disdain for what we have seen happen in our cities, to our residents and to our police officers as a result of illegal guns. So, we signed a statement of principles and agreed to work together to take illegal guns out of our cities.
Fighting crime is a top priority for all mayors – and fighting crime means fighting illegal guns. The stakes could not be higher. Fatal shootings of police officers increased 33 percent last year. I know that every mayor in this country will do whatever it takes to protect the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our cities safe.
So now, the voices of mayors are echoed by elected leaders and law enforcement officials from every part of America – and we’re making progress. Our numbers are growing, our mission could not be more timely and our message couldn’t be more clear: We need to stem the flow of illegal guns in our cities now.
Together, we will continue to work for common sense measures to fight illegal gun trafficking
His testimony was awfully short on the specifics on what problems “illegal guns” pose, other than claiming that they are behind an increase in shootings of police officers. Instead he lovingly details the growing number of government officials who are in favor of making the population increasingly dependent on them for protection.
In fact, the main complaint contained within his testimony seems to be that the work of the police is made more difficult by the prevalence of black marketeers importing guns illegally from areas where they can be legally manufactured and sold to ones where they cannot be legally imported and sold. But, his conclusions, that a Fugitive-Slave-Law style crackdown by the federal Government would somehow make the city of Boston safer is unbelievably wrong headed.
Assumption 1: A police monopoly on guns will make people safer:
This is, of course ridiculous. The police can take minutes or hours to respond to an attack in progress. The police are also under no legal obligation to respond at all. Restricting the supply of firearms makes defense of property increasingly expensive. While the wealthy can afford to hire security guards licensed by the state, or can convince political leaders to assign them special police details, those who are too poor, or lack political connections are left increasingly vulnerable.
Assumption 2: A reduction in the availability of guns will make criminals significantly less dangerous:
This is, again, ridiculous. The bank robbers who unsuccessfully attempted to rob a bank in California using AK-47’s are very rare exceptions to the rule that most crimes can be as easily committed with a knife as with a gun. A criminal carrying out an attack has the initiative; he chooses when and where he attacks and who his victim is. He is quite capable of altering his plans should the tools he has to work with be limited only to knives or base-ball bats. The ban makes the criminal more dangerous; firearms historically have favored defenders over attackers. There is a great deal of truth behind the saying God may have created men equal, but it was Samuel Colt who made ’em equal.
Assumption 3: A meaningful reduction in the availability of guns is even possible:
Total bans on any good in wide demand, such as alcohol or cocaine or salt will result in smuggling. Nothing save setting up checkpoints on every road into Massachusetts and searching every car carefully will keep guns from flowing into the state. Unlike cocaine or whiskey, a gun gives off no chemical traces of its presence. Tape it to the underside of a car, and you can get it through any checkpoint.
Furthermore, any clever person can build simple yet effective weapons given a rudimentary machine shop. Even if a total ban on imports was possible, the measures required to prevent machine shops from producing firearms in quantities sufficient for a crime wave would be unenforceable.
Mayor Menino cited a figure of ~<500 illegal guns being associated by police with various crimes. 7 smuggling rings, smuggling in 15 guns a month each could easily supply this sort of demand. Hell 20 machine shops could easily make 10 guns a month to produce over 2000 guns a year if need be.
Nor will Mayor Menino ever be able to get rid of gun manufacture all-together. The demand for legal guns for his police force is sufficient to ensure that factories will be churning out a large quantity of fire-arms. Some of these will be diverted into the black market as surely as nuclear missile guidance systems ending up in Taiwan.
“What is not seen”
Mayor Menino does not want to outlaw guns. Rather what he wants to do is outlaw anyone but the police from having them. He views the guns as making violence in the city worse and as a hazard to the police. But by focusing on the firearms he is avoiding the questions he really should be asking:
Why are people resolving disputes by shooting at each other? Why are the police being threatened?
The answer to these questions is not a pleasant one to the politicians of Boston or Massachusetts, so they avoid asking them.
The short answer is that by writing and enforcing draconian economic and moral laws such as onerous labor laws, blue laws and drug laws, the politicians of Massachusetts are making it difficult for people to live their lives legally. The police are not seen as benefactors but as yet another street gang preying on the weak. The lack of legal business opportunities drive people to seek illegal occupations. While some of these illegal occupations are honorable (drug dealing, prostitution), many are dishonorable (burglary, mugging).
When people view the police as an enemy, and the courts as a predatory system, they naturally ignore them for resolving disputes. When business ventures are illegal, the participants are much more likely to settle disputes violently than via a system of arbitration.
What Mayor Menino seeks to do is to isolate the people of Boston from alternatives to dealing with the police. In effect he is behaving like an abusive boy-friend who tries to isolate his girlfriend from other people. Rather than improving the relationship between the citizenry and the government, these attempts will only increase the gulf between them. Any crackdown on the illegal gun trade will inevitably harm innocent people who are either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who are deprived of a means to defend themselves. It will empower criminals to more brazen acts of thievery and mayhem. It will, in effect worsen most of the engines that drive criminality.
Until he recognizes that the political policies he and his circle support which are the root cause of the violence directed by the people subject to his rule towards each other and towards the police, nothing good will come of his advocacy and his actions.
It is time for the political classes of Massachusetts to stop treating the citizenry as children at best and as beasts to be exploited at worst. If they were serious about reducing the level of violence and the misery in Boston they would stop wasting time on trying to shore up a monopoly on defensive services on behalf of the police, give up their expensive hoplohobia-mongering propaganda campaigns, and would instead focus their attention to eliminating the laws purposed for economic and social engineering.