Why the Gun Law Strategy Won’t Work, and What Will

Here we are in yet another immediate aftermath of a mass shooting. And once again we hear the beating drum of the liberal side of politics calling for more gun laws.

I don’t own a gun, I don’t much like guns, their proliferation makes me uncomfortable and yes in an ideal world they would be severely regulated.   I agree with the overall stricter-gun-law sentiment, but . . .

. . . I also know that such an approach will never work.  This is because this approach goes against every lesson of history I can think of.

I don’t use drugs either but I have been ranting for years about the horrific problems caused by making drugs illegal.  I applaud Portugal for decriminalizing drugs.  So how can I, after years of decrying the prohibition of something as being an ineffective solution, support that same approach elsewhere?

Here in the USA we have already experimented with “Prohibition” . . . of both alcohol and drugs.  Prohibition has not worked, and in fact has generally made things worse. Given the failure  and side effects of the War on Drugs, do you really think we should have a War on Guns?  Really?

Instead, let’s look at . . . what does work.

What has worked, with cigarettes, drunk driving, suicide prevention, and other broad social problems like teen pregnancy, is not a broad blanket prohibition, but a mindful approach of understanding how propaganda and brainwashing works.  This way, you are dealing with the root cause.  There is much power in positive propaganda.  It has proven to be a far more effective approach.  And, it’s Constitutional.

Do you remember the debate over Joe Camel? Joe Camel was part of a broad campaign by a major cigarette maker to make cigarettes seem cool and appealing to insecure young men. There is a similar trend in gun advertising, making guns sound far more romantic than they really are.  For example:

Instead of outlawing guns, it would be far more effective to simply regulate the marketing of guns.  Make it impossible for gun makers to make ads like the above, romanticizing about shooting at any “enemy of freedom,” and just treat guns for what they are: tools, just like knives or gasoline.

We have ongoing ad campaigns encouraging people to have designated drivers. How about designated ammo buyers?  Friends don’t let friends stockpile too much ammo.  We could make it socially “cool” for young men to monitor their peers, letting them be heroes by taking on the task of preventing other young men from falling too deep into gun fascination.  Young men are eager to be heroes. Make use of that. As it is, the gun makers own the field.

If you look at how we have been reasonably successful at lessening cigarette smoking and drunk driving, virtually NONE of that success came via blatant prohibition of buying cigarettes or alcohol.   It is not perfect, but what is?

A side note of history, it has been said that every war starts with the generals using the strategies that worked in the previous war. After World War I, the French spent trillions of dollars on the Maginot Line. It was great strategy in 1919, but in 1939, new technology– such as Stuka dive bombers, fast tanks, and airplanes that could carry and drop paratroopers behind the lines in great numbers, made the Maginot Line totally ineffective. We are Maginot Line thinkers, now fighting a new kind of emotional Blitzkrieg war.  We have to learn the new methods of fighting our enemies, enemies that have already adopted these superior tactics.

I hate to say it, but for all of the lofty condemnation of the NRA by my general social milieu, I am in total agreement with the NRA on one point: outlawing guns is pointless, just as outlawing drugs and alcohol is pointless.   Making such laws can make you feel morally superior, it offers a siren song of a quick and easy solution, but in reality, they have no little positive effect and generally tend to make things worse.  If people want guns or drugs, they will go and get them, and if they are illegal, now you have worse problems of corruption and criminal elements making money selling them.

So instead of anti-gun laws, or anti-alcohol laws, or anti-drug laws, let’s look at the many ways gun manufacturers have been creating a market for their product by promulgating unjustified fear. Let’s also take a hard look at how they exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of isolated men, who feel a need to prove their worth by doing something grandiose, i.e., by defending society against a perceived evil.  And let’s fight fire with fire.

If you take away the gun versions of Joe Camel, if you remove the romance and address the addictive danger of thinking one’s problems can be solved by pulling a trigger, you have a real shot at reducing gun violence the same way we have reduced lung cancer, drunk driving, child abduction and abuse, and distracted driving.

To think prohibition alone will work is to demonstrate a total lack of knowledge of history.  It also feeds into the gun marketer’s hands; the simplistic idea that passing a law will solve a problem is in fact a genuine threat to freedom– i.e. the freedom to buy alcohol, the freedom to buy marijuana, and the freedom of the responsible 99.99% of gun owners to own a weapon.

Perfection is the enemy of the good. We have not ended drunk driving or lung cancer, but it’s way down. Let’s do what works.  And if you want me to produce the ad campaign, you know where to find me.

– Justin Locke

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