By Other Words
By Jill Richardson*
As our nation debates gun rights vs. gun control, there’s a stupid argument that keeps resurfacing on the anti-gun control side. I’m not anti-gun, but I am anti-stupidity, so this is bugging me.
It’s the idea that because criminals, by their very nature, do not follow laws, we should not pass any laws limiting gun rights.
The thought goes that if we, say, require universal background checks, good, law-abiding people will follow that law, but criminals will still buy illegal guns. Therefore, why bother with the background checks?
This is ridiculous for several reasons.
First, that’s not how laws work. We don’t say, “Well, we could ban rape, but rapists would still do it anyway. I guess rape should be legal.”
Second, it could deter some people. There are some people who believe in following laws, or at least don’t want to get punished for breaking them. Even if the illegal gun buyers are unethical, many gun sellers will refuse to violate a law.
Third, not all criminals plan their crimes in advance. Some gun violence is done in a fit of passion.
Yes, the person premeditating murder might go get a gun in advance.
But let’s say it’s someone who would not be able to get a gun legally if there were universal background checks. Maybe they’re a convicted felon, or they have a mental illness that predisposes them to violence, or they’re a domestic abuser.
If this person flies into a murderous rage, it’s harder to get a gun quickly, because nobody can legally sell them one.
Also, some criminals aren’t very smart. Some are, but some aren’t. Even if tighter gun laws primarily kept guns out of the hands of criminals too stupid to find a way around the law, that’s still a win.
It would still save some lives. Not all. But why should we not save some lives just because we can’t save all of them?
If we cut the number of gun deaths by even 10 percent because only the very dumbest people couldn’t figure out how to get their hands on an illegal gun, we still would cut gun deaths by 10 percent.
How many mothers and fathers wouldn’t lose a child because of that?
I understand that some people oppose specific gun control measures, and some control any and all gun control measures. And that’s OK. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and we all get to vote.
But the notion that we shouldn’t make any laws at all because criminals don’t follow the laws? That’s nonsense.
We should debate the laws on their merits, pass the laws that the majority of Americans support — ideally ones that also protect the rights of law-abiding citizens — and then do our best to enforce them.
We ban murder, rape, tax evasion, intellectual property theft, burglary, and on and on. Criminals still do those things. And then, much of the time, we catch them and punish them. We do our best to keep them from committing more crimes in the future. We’d do the same with anyone who broke gun laws.
Let’s continue this debate — but retire this particular argument.
*OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
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