Want to see a return of machine guns? Then ban semi-automatic weapons.

One of the under appreciated aspect of our legal system surrounding firearms, is that the firearm owning public is a compliant bunch when it comes to the law. NCIC background checks and waiting periods are followed with nary a peep. It is well documented that concealed carry permit holders are the least likely to commit a crime with a firearm.

It is when laws move from regulatory to restrictive that rules tend to be ignored. In states such as New Jersey and Connecticut compliance has been less than stellar after passing draconian restrictions of limited to no value in wake of mass shootings. For example, some 40,000 magazines were turned in to Connecticut authorities out of an estimated 2.4 million of them after passing magazine restrictions a few years back. Gun advocacy organizations and gun blogs are filled with anecdotal evidence of non compliance. Gun owners in Illinois are currently telling their statehouse representatives that, “I will not comply,” with similar restrictions imposed in states such as New Jersey and Connecticut.

It’s not just in the U.S. either. Australia, the model for American gun control advocates, has had uneven compliance with its strict gun laws. Different jurisdictions in the country have seen lower levels of compliance and enforcement than others. It seems the necessity of the consent of the governed is not unique to the United States. So do not bemoan the United States’ rotten culture here, either.

Liberalization of state gun laws and the Federal Courts recognition that the Second Amendment deserves equal billing with the rest of the Constitution has been a triumph of Civil Rights. States have been liberalizing gun laws for a generation; the trend in gun crime is downward (albeit with a recent uptick) and the number of guns sold each year has increased. Finally, U.S. Supreme Court appears to be poised to turn a more jaundiced eye toward gun restrictions after progress stalled in the wake of the landmark Heller and McDonald Decisions.

Fueled by big donors and supporters in the media, there is a sense that gun control has momentum. Democrat Party candidates for the Presidency — except maybe US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) —  openly propose banning semi-automatic weapons. Illinois is moving to implement more limits on their already draconian laws.  On the West Coast Washington is putting more restrictions on the ballot and California officials brag about gutting the Civil Right in their state.

Despite these efforts, however, the march for Civil Rights and the Second Amendment continue.  The advantage still lies with individual rights.

Yet, what if gun control movement were to succeed? Would “gun crime” decline, would there be no difference or would things become worse? The law of unintended consequences in public policy still apply. And it seems they get short shrift in this debate. So, here are three unintended consequenes I considered if the United States were to turn away from this important Civil Right.

  1. It could undermine the Rule of Law –As noted above, compliance has not been great wether it be through ignorance or civil disobedience. Currently in Illinois, downstate counties and local prosecutors are warning politicians that further restrictions on their citizens will be ignored. Legitimacy in the United States is based upon the consent of the governed and respect for minority rights. The Rule of Law takes a hit when government goes too far.
  2. More gun control could be a boon to the Black Market — European restrictions on gun ownership have not stopped gun crime from occurring.  In the US, where there are more firearms in circulation than people, privately held weapons will suddenly become worth much more valuable creating incentives for theft or earning some quick cash illegally. Firearms can be built with shop tools in a basement or a garage. Where gun manufactures have quality standards, a way of tracing firearms used in crimes, and other regulatory guardrails, the black market does not. States want to ban “ghost guns,” prohibitions on the AR-15 will proliferate them.  Prohibition failed, the War on Drugs is not working and neither will War on Guns. Think gun running into Chicago is bad, just wait.
  3. Automatic Weapons could re-appear — This would be the most ominous development. The legal sale of new machine guns was banned in 1986. It sticks because gun owners are satisfied with owning semi-automatics and have access to them. But if your semi-automatic is now illegal why not convert to select fire?  A few trigger group modifications and a cut to a bolt carrier and your AR-15 is now a M4. And again, illegal manufacture of automatic weapons could become a lucrative black market opportunity.

Don’t believe me not he last one? Look at Europe where the fully automatic weapons were used in multiple attacks. They were easily purchased on the black market. The weapons came from converted weapons from Eastern Europe and surplus weapons still circulating from the Balkan conflict (Important Note: guns can be serviceable for decades or even a century).

Right now the United States has systems and institutions in place that have been accepted by the vast majority of gun owners. These systems and institutions channel behavior. Tearing these systems down now–given the technological and intellectual property developments that can turn every basement into a factory–is not going to make things better.

The reality is that the toothpaste is out of the tube. Firearms in the United States are here to stay.  Bans, restrictions or infringing on the Right to Self Defense are not going to change that reality.

In fact, they may make things worse.



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