Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Arizona revives gun debate. by Rod Rojas

The unfortunate, recent shooting in Arizona in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were attacked has revived the debate regarding gun laws, especially because Arizona has relatively lax gun laws.

It is widely speculated on the media that Jared Loughner –the alleged gunman- may have some sort of mental imbalance, so there have been calls for further screening regulation to limit the ability of mental patients to purchase guns. It must be noted that mental illness only rarely translates into criminal violence.

One of the reasons why he is being deemed mentally unstable is because of his anti-government views, and his support for the gold standard. By this definition the entire libertarian community should be moved to a mental institution.

According to Rich Daly of Psychiatric News, the mentally ill only perpetrate between 3 and 5 percent of all gun related violence. It seems that a statistical link with the brand of shoes that the killer used might yield more conclusive results.

Mental health care is no different to any other sort of health care; it affects many people around us. Most of them lead relatively normal lives while coping with their imbalance in the same way that others cope with chronic fatigue or diabetes. Because of the huge stigma attached to mental illness, privacy is vital to the mental patient’s ability to function in society. The publication of mental records through a consolidated database to allow gun dealers to perform background checks would be a huge blow to this overwhelmingly peaceful -and sometimes fragile- segment of our population.

In Congress, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is already talking about a federal ban on high capacity magazines, like the one allegedly used by Loughner.

Considering the repeated and unmitigated failure of every single prohibitionist policy, why would anyone still advocate banning anything?

Banning a good or service only creates a black market for it. And along with the criminalization comes the violence related to the illegal trafficking. In other words, not only do the goods or services not leave the market, but we create new branches of crime, we incur huge costs in connection to the enforcement of the laws, and we see a rise in the price of the goods and services in question.

Sometimes a ban can even make the good more readily available than if it were legally obtainable. Take the case of illegal drugs for example. It is much easier for a teen to get hold of marijuana than beer.

Illegality also imparts the good or service with a certain appeal. The 1920’s prohibition of alcohol in the USA gave glamour to the underground bars. Likewise today, we see how drug dealing has been idealized in parts of the hip-hop culture.

We should also remember that producing, buying, selling or owning a weapon does not in any way harm anybody. The initiation of violence against others or their property is what needs to be punished, and this can be done with or without guns. Victimless, voluntary exchanges are not crimes.

I suppose Congresswoman McCarthy spends time in Washington DC, where some of the most draconian gun laws have been in effect since 1976. She should be familiar with the high crime rate and with the fact that violent criminals still carry guns in the District of Columbia. Restrictive gun laws disarm law abiding citizens, not criminals.

We may contrast the District of Columbia with Switzerland, which has one of the highest private gun ownership rates in the world, and where gun crime rates are statistically insignificant. That little country has no professional army, so Swiss males between the ages of 18 and 42 are required by law to keep a fully automatic assault rifle at home. While conscription should not be advocated, we should note that the Swiss don’t go around shooting each other, just like we don’t go around stabbing each other to death in spite of the fact that we all have big, sharp, lethal knives in our kitchens.

While we feel for the friends and families of the victims, and bans appear to be the right thing to do, we need to know that they do not produce the desired effects. There was once a world without guns and both cruelty and crime were definitely present.

Do not let politicians capitalize on your emotions. Oppose the passing of legislation that restricts your freedom, endangers your privacy and causes problems while solving none.

Rod Rojas is a holder of the Canadian Securities Course designation and performs as a financial adviser in personal, corporate, and public-policy matters. Read his articles at  Send him mail.

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