Can Gun Control Work?

Can Gun Control Work?

Can Gun Control Work?

Can Gun Control Work?

Synopsis

Few schisms in American life run as deep or as wide as the divide between gun rights and gun control advocates. Awash in sound and symbol, the gun regulation debate has largely been defined by forceful rhetoric rather than substantive action. Politicians shroud themselves in talk of individual rights or public safety while lobbyists on both sides make doom-and-gloom pronouncements on the consequences of potential shifts in the status quo. In America today there are between 250 and 300 million firearms in private hands, amounting to one weapon for every American. Two in five American homes house guns. On the one hand, most gun owners are law-abiding citizens who believe they have a constitutional right to bear arms. On the other, a great many people believe gun control to be our best chance at reducing violent crime. While few--whether gun owner or anti-gun advocate--dispute the need to keep guns out of the wrong hands, the most important question has too often been dodged: What gun control options does the most heavily armed democracy in the world have? Can gun control really work? The last decade has seen several watersheds in the debate, none more important than the 1993 Brady Bill. That bill, James B. Jacobs argues, was the culmination of a strategy in place since the 1930s to permit widespread private ownership of guns while curtailing illegal use. But where do we go from here? While the Brady background check is easily circumvented, any further attempts to extend gun control--for instance, through comprehensive licensing of all gun owners and registration of all guns--would pose monumental administrative burdens. Jacobs moves beyond easy slogans and broad-brush ideology to examine the on-the-ground practicalities of gun control, from mandatory safety locks to outright prohibition and disarmament. Casting aside ideology and abstractions, he cautions against the belief that there exists some gun control solution which, had we the political will to seize it, would substantially reduce violent crime. In Can Gun Control Work?, James B. Jacobs, one of our most fearless commentators on intractable social problems, has given us the most sober and even-handed assessment of whether gun control can really be made to work.

Excerpt

To a large extent, gun control is something that people believe in. It is embraced in principle without attention to practicalities, implementation and enforcement problems, and costs. Many people assume that effective, cost-efficient gun controls are available for the taking, if only the opposition of the evil gun lobby could be overcome. There are no scholarly articles and few advocacy documents that provide the details of particular gun controls and grapple with questions of implementation and enforcement.

I approach gun control as a problem of regulation. In the pages that follow, I will examine the administrative challenges, enforcement dilemmas, and unintended consequences of the whole range of gun control options. The bad news is that this book is hard work. The good news is that the hard work will be repaid. It is no doubt far easier, and certainly more satisfying, to debate gun control in principle, to locate oneself on the moral high ground and to demonize those who take the opposite position, than to deal with the extraordinarily difficult problems of designing, implementing, and enforcing a regulatory regime that would successfully deny access to firearms to some or all civilians, or keep track of the whereabouts and ownership of every weapon. It cannot be overemphasized that when it comes to considering the future of U. S. firearms regulation, we are not writing on a blank slate. The question we must address is not whether an armed citizenry is a good or bad idea or what policies would make sense for a brand new country that has few, if any, guns. We must confront a much tougher question: What options are available to the United States at this point in its history?

Many readers are likely to wonder why the United States cannot just adopt the gun control policies that work in European countries, Japan, and . . .

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