(Last revised: January 22, 2013)
What if cars were treated like guns?
Why are gun-owners so resistant to new gun laws? Beyond the obvious self-interest that you would assume, there are other reasons behind this. Some stem from an understanding of the US Constitution, belief in civil liberties, and other factors. However the part that is less obvious to those who don't own guns is the rather complex set of laws already on the books. The hope is to shed a small amount of light on this through analogy.
Most people in our country are well acquainted with cars, and driving on public roads. The entire automobile industry and public roadways are steeped in a large collection of complex laws, concerning safety standards, manufacturing methods, purchasing and selling, and more.
With guns it is very much the same, with some notable differences. While there are many good laws and sensible restrictions already in place, from the point of view of a gun-owner there are many other rules which seem to serve no purpose other than to irritate gun owners, without actually doing much to promote safety or reduce crime. Because new laws are enacted constantly that have a direct impact on gun owners, they have to stay abreast of this new legislation so as not to accidentally break a new law.
While the analogy may not be perfect, comparing transportation to weapons, we can still keep in mind that more people in the US die every year in vehicles than due to homicide with weapons of any kind, or by firearms including suicides and accidents. However this is not why this article is using vehicles as an analogy. Instead we are looking at cars because they are ubiquitous and well understood.
Now imagine a world in which some high profile cases of egregious vehicular manslaughter were in the news. Most were drunk-driving incidents, with a few cases of the driver smashing his car through the front door of a building and killing several people. Politicians came out of the woodwork to enact new vehicle and roadway legislation, and were quick to vilify anyone who was "pro-car" as being part of the problem. The "car lobby", which includes manufacturers, dealerships, and anyone with a AAA-card, is usually described as unwavering and intractable, clearly not caring about lives and only interested in pushing their agenda of unregulated car ownership. This comes despite the wide range of existing laws, and all of the safety features that have become standard in many civilian vehicles, often exceeding the minimums required by law, as well as the privately available training and safety programs that these organizations provide.
After several decades of new laws being added, you find that driving isn't what it was like for your grandparents. Here are some of the realities you now live with, and accept as normal:
A variety of cosmetic, ergonomic, and safety features are banned. The list includes, but is not limited to, four-point harness seat-belts, gear-shifts on steering wheels, racing stripes, fins, spoilers, chrome rims, and raised intake vents on hoods. Any one of these features classifies your car as a race-car, and racing isn't permitted on public roads, therefore you cannot have these features.
Fuel tanks are limited to ten gallons of gasoline, no matter the size or fuel economy of the vehicle. It doesn't matter if your car gets ten miles to the gallon, or fifty. This restriction is intended to dissuade people from going on rampant drunk-driving sprees, and to make sure that if the police need to chase you, that you will always run out of fuel before they do. This has had the side effect of influencing buyers to get cars with more efficient engines that can get "more bang for the buck" out of each gallon.
Vehicles of all kinds are physically limited to fifty-five miles per hour, because that is the speed limit. Occasionally people die because they could not accelerate beyond this in an emergency situation. However auto-safety advocates insist that the lives saved are worth it, even though studies have not been able to conclude that driving is actually any safer as a result.
Large pickup-trucks, and anything larger such as box-trucks or flatbed trucks, are banned from civilian use. Any that were purchased prior to 1986 may still be in service, since they were grandfathered in, but those are very difficult to acquire since the scarcity has made them extremely expensive. These larger vehicles haven't been used in many crimes or been proven to be unsafe for the user, however legislators have deemed them to be beyond the needs of average citizens. Despite the lack of availability, the media and some of the public insist that these large trucks need to be banned, because they believe this is what is being used in crimes. They do not realize that these have effectively been banned already, and anti-vehicle legislators are relying on this misconception to be able to ban vans and SUVs by calling them trucks.
Traveling to another state can prove to be very difficult because each state has different rules about the types of vehicles that can be driven. Some may disallow SUVs, and others may restrict mini-vans. Frequently you are allowed to bring your vehicle, as long as you don't drive it. Towing is usually permitted. Federal law permits you to drive through a state that otherwise disallows your type of vehicle, as long as you don't stop anywhere in that state.
In some states, the restrictions change from county to county, or within cities. These restrictions come in all shapes and sizes, such as limiting the size of your steering wheel, the type of tires you may have, paint colors, and number of cylinders in the engine. What is legal in most of the state might prove to be illegal upon entering a smaller jurisdiction. Not being aware of the local laws may land you in jail.
Driver's licenses are not automatically recognized in other states. Some states will honor your license, but not all, and they may not be contiguously located.
Within your own state, despite having a valid driver's license, you may find that there are places you are not permitted to drive to as a destination. This may include schools, courthouses, liquor stores (but not bars), libraries, parks, and more. If you want to visit these places, you may need to park your car across town, in a high crime-rate area.
You also discover that some of the places you would like to visit have voluntarily posted "no cars" signs. A few restaurants and the local shopping mall were among the first to post them. These signs carry the weight of law behind them, because private property owners have that right. You may decide that if you can keep it out of view, you might park your car there anyway, rather than leave it several blocks away where you can't keep an eye on it. Thefts do happen occasionally, and besides, you might need your car in an emergency. If asked to leave, you'll go because you don't want to cause any trouble.
Gasoline now costs multiple times what it should, due to heavy taxation. This makes it very difficult for new drivers who are not wealthy to get the practice they need, however they still try to do so because it matters. Also, the current administration is considering fuel rationing, not due to scarcity, but to make it impractical for someone to go on a massive hit-and-run binge. Politicians seem uninterested in the argument that rationing will make it even more difficult for new drivers to learn, particularly those who live in lower income areas, even though the same politicians accuse citizen drivers of being unsafe when compared to police or other professional drivers. It is also common belief that no one should have any legal need to drive more than one hundred miles per week. Arguments are made that penalizing all of the law abiding citizens with high taxation is unlikely to stop someone with criminal intent, but such arguments fall on deaf ears.
Every few years, after a highly publicized hit-and-run that has left multiple people dead, legislators propose new laws to ban SUVs and mini-vans, even if the crime was committed with an average sedan. Some politicians will even go so far as to admit that they would like to ban vehicles of all kinds for civilians, even though they own vehicles themselves and hire private drivers.
Although it is acknowledged that driving a car is a legitimate activity, there is a sense that you don't need a car, therefore any restriction is justified. There is still a strong public opinion that these restrictions will save lives. When the laws fail to do so, as most drivers predicted, more restrictions are proposed.
Clearly the comparison between motor vehicles and firearms is an "apples to oranges" analogy. The above surely sounds absurd. However, gun owners, particularly those who obtain state issued carry-permits, have to be wary of a wide range of laws in every jurisdiction they pass through. A permit does not give a citizen unrestricted access throughout their state. Nearly every state in the US has a carry-permit system, and it has been demonstrated repeatedly that permit holders are among the most law abiding of citizens, committing crimes on the order of ten to twenty times less frequently than the general population.
We have thousands of gun laws, currently over twenty thousand, with more being added each year. While many laws serve their intended purpose, there are many more that can't be shown to have a positive effect, and make it dangerous for gun owners since they may accidentally break the law without being aware. Our system has become a complex patch-work of legislation.
Gun owners want to save lives. Keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals is something that everyone wants. Artificial limits on ergonomic and cosmetic features, as well as capacity limits, will not do much to stop criminals from obtaining them and using them for illegal purposes. So why aren't we starting with improving the background check system, or prosecuting those who falsify their applications, or addressing the nature of violence and the many factors that lead to it? The answer is probably that it is much easier to vilify weapons and their owners, than to work on much more difficult socioeconomic and cultural issues.