Policy Analysis No. 109

Trust the People: The Case against Gun Control

Executive Summary

Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1) Those who fear and distrust the people … . 2) Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe … depository of the public interest.

— Thomas Jefferson

Few public policy debates have been as dominated by emotion and misinformation as the one on gun control. Perhaps this debate is so highly charged because it involves such fundamental issues. The calls for more gun restrictions or for bans on some or all guns are calls for significant change in our social and constitutional systems.

Gun control is based on the faulty notion that ordinary American citizens are too clumsy and ill-tempered to be trusted with weapons. Only through the blatant abrogation of explicit constitutional rights is gun control even possible. It must be enforced with such violations of individual rights as intrusive search and seizure. It most severely victimizes those who most need weapons for self-defense, such as blacks and women.

The various gun control proposals on today’s agenda—including licensing, waiting periods, and bans on so-called Saturday night specials—are of little, if any, value as crime-fighting measures. Banning guns to reduce crime makes as much sense as banning alcohol to reduce drunk driving. Indeed, persuasive evidence shows that civilian gun ownership can be a powerful deterrent to crime.

The gun control debate poses the basic question: Who is more trustworthy, the government or the people?

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David B. Kopel, formerly an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, is an attorney in Colorado.