Just Say No to Dumb Gun Laws

by Megan McArdle , The Daily Beast  |  published on November 24, 2012

Laura at 11D is mystified by people who oppose assault weapons bans:

I try very hard to understand the far right, but the extreme gun people are beyond me.

If you can buy the gun on the top, but can’t buy the bottom gun, who cares? You still have a gun.

I’d turn that question around: if it makes no difference, then why have the law? There’s little evidence that the assault weapons ban achieved its ostensible purpose of making America safer; we did not see the predicted spike in crime when it expired in 2004. That’s not really surprising, because long guns aren’t used in the majority of gun crimes, and “assault weapon” is a largely cosmetic rather than functional description; the guns that were taken off the street were not noticeably more lethal than the ones that remained. It was a largely symbolic law that made proponents of gun control feel good about “doing something”.

But we should not have largely symbolic laws that require real and large regulatory interventions. There should always be a presumption in favor of economic liberty, as there is with other liberties; to justify curtailing them, we need a benefit more tangible than warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of American liberals. But that is not the only reason that we should oppose ineffective, or marginally effective, regulations. There’s also an important question of government and social capacity.

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