‘Call me a Constitution Nut, But I Still Support the Second Amendment’

That’s the title of my op-ed that ran in the (Newark) Star-Ledger today.  Here’s an excerpt:

Even making it illegal to own a gun wouldn’t prevent a criminal or madman from doing his malevolent deed. Robust policies to prevent legal gun ownership only translate to guns being overwhelmingly possessed by those willing to break the law—i.e., criminals.

Indeed, Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and Sandy Hook Elementary is a “gun-free zone”—as was the movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

None of the measures at the top of gun-control advocates’ agenda—such as banning so-called assault weapons (ordinary rifles with certain cosmetic features like pistol grips or bayonet mounts) and closing gun-show loopholes—would’ve averted these shootings. The Newtown killer stole the pistols he used from his mother.

We’d be much better off focusing on improvements we can make in identifying and treating mental illness—the common factor in all these incidents—and ensuring that disqualifying records make it into the database used for background checks (which would’ve stopped the Virginia Tech shooter from buying his guns).

I actually wrote that piece nearly a month ago, right after the Newtown shooting, but of course this issue isn’t going anywhere.  As we’ve been discussing here at Cato how best to advance our ideas, one of my colleagues mentioned that it’s become obvious that the Obama administration has embarked on a concerted strategy for driving the gun debate. We can expect a new “story” every other day: Joe Biden meets with all and sundry; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces his plan to ban so-called assault weapons; Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces Chicago’s plan to evade last month’s Seventh Circuit ruling striking down Illinois restrictions on bearing arms. Next week, the Biden Task Force will announce its recommendations, then Sen. Dianne Feinstein announces a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, then Obama issues executive orders…

I don’t want to prejudge the various proposals that will come from Congress, the executive branch, and state officials, but I fear that most will do real damage to the individual right to own guns for legitimate reasons (self-defense, hunting, defense against tyranny) while not affecting incidents of gun violence one iota.  As I say in my op-ed, we should pursue certain sensible reforms—e.g., tightening the system of background checks—but further regulations and restrictions without addressing underlying social problems and mental illness issues will only deter the law-abiding rather than those who don’t care about the law.  I fear more faux “gun-free” zones of the sort exploited by the Aurora and Newtown killers, but at least the gun-controllers will feel good about having done “something.”

For a longer discussion of these issues, watch the forum I moderated on Wednesday. And, as Tim mentioned below, the Washington Post conducted an insightful interview on gun control with Cato’s chairman, Bob Levy.