The Fallacy of Gun Laws

Like clockwork it has happened. Anytime there is a shooting there is a call  for stricter gun control laws. Whether in reaction to the recent shootings in  Tulsa, the school shootings in Ohio and California, or the Trayvon Martin case  in Florida, more laws on gun use and ownership are seen as the answer for  preventing similar incidents from repeating. It’s as though all we need to keep  people from killing one another are laws that restrict access to guns or  increase punishment for violent crimes. The laws are not the problem, the people  who commit the crimes are.

Most people would refrain from shooting someone whether there was a law in  place or not. It is the rare individual who would say, “The only thing keeping  me from opening fire on a classroom of innocent people is the law.” No, most of  us don’t murder because we know murder is wrong, not because the law tells us it  is, but because our moral compass does.

By combining data from the Census Bureau and the FBI we see that in states  with the death penalty for murder the murder rate in 2010 was 25% higher than in  non-death penalty states. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun  Violence, California, where a man just shot ten innocent people in a college  classroom, ranks among the states with the strictest gun laws. Likewise, New  York and New Jersey have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation yet have a  higher murder rate than Ohio and Virginia where gun laws are among the weakest.  The states with the lowest murder rates are Vermont and New Hampshire. These two  states rank among those with the weakest gun laws.

Of course these statistics don’t prove that laws are worthless. But what they  do show is the limited capability of laws to determine outcomes in individual  cases or to shape behavior in general. Laws are not to blame, the individuals  who commit the crimes are. What we need to understand is what leads these people  to commit such horrific acts of violence.

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What we know of the shooters in Tucson, Chardon, and Virginia Tech is that  the shooters felt isolated and estranged from the rest of society. They felt  alone and desperate. It would not be a surprise if the shooters in Oakland and  Tulsa had the same disposition. No law would have made these people feel  connected, empowered, or improved their view of humanity.

Others who commit heinous crimes may have some other form of depravity that  drives them to do what normal people would not. It is impossible to know all  that motivates people but it is easy to understand that laws are not the only  answer. Laws are insufficient correctives for the depraved soul or mind. Rather,  laws punish misdeeds, remind us what society expects from us, and in some  instances provide a deterrent for those less determined to harm others.

Laws are not useless, but to think of them as the only answer or the best  answer is wrongheaded. To think that more laws and stricter laws are the right  answer is a misguided assumption. A new emphasis should be placed on cultivating  character not crafting laws. Such an endeavor does not follow a clear course of  action nor does it satisfy our needs for clarity and immediacy but it does  provide a more productive path forward.

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