Black Markets, Fast Guns, & Tall Tales
by Dr. Paul Gallant & Dr. Joanne Eisen
"Washington Sues Gun Makers, Distributors" headlined a January 20 Associated Press item. Joining suit with 29 other jurisdictions around the country against gun makers and distributors for "marketing practices" which "helped criminals obtain weapons", D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams declared: "We're supposed to have the toughest gun prohibitions in the nation and yet our streets are flooded with guns."
Great sound-bite. And for those taken in by the vision of truckloads of Uzis rolling down the streets of America in plain sight, and guns being handed out like water to marathon runners on a hot summer day, the scam worked as planned.
But "streets flooded with guns" - and its alter egos, "easy availability" and "proliferation" - are code words used to disguise the black market, and the broken promises of more than 20,000 "tough" gun laws already on the books.
Want to crack the secret code used to hide this simple truth? Just substitute "black market" every time one of these catch phrases is uttered. For instance, take the recent comments on workplace violence by Denver Mayor Wellington Webb: "We need to have regulations...to lessen the proliferation of guns on the street". Translation: "We need to have regulations...to lessen black market guns on the street".
And therein lies the fatal flaw in schemes to regulate or ban firearms. Limit legal channels, and the only thing that changes is the pattern of availability.
Word-games used to camouflage the black market serve a political utility. They absolve today's youthful offenders of their transgressions, shift the blame away from guilty politicians onto peaceable gun-owners, and justify the need for even harsher measures with the constant promise of less violent crime.
At best, the laws don't deliver. More often, they make things worse.
Example: Speaking to the American Society of Criminology in November, Dr. Alan Lizotte explained that "obtaining a pistol permit in New York is no easy matter". Despite Lizotte's characterization of New York's law as "tough", it has failed to perform as advertised. Lizotte's conclusion: "There is nearly universal non-compliance with New York's strict handgun licensing law...illegal handguns are easy to obtain".
In New York City (pop. 7 million), where requirements to own any gun are far more stringent than throughout the rest of the state, the current estimate of "unlicensed" firearms is 2 million, or more.
Example: In 1976, Washington, D.C. - the city over which Mayor Williams now presides - enacted its own "tough" gun law, a virtual ban on handguns, rifles and shotguns. The result? The nation's capitol became the nation's murder capitol in 1991.
The pattern of false promise followed by failure is familiar and predictable. Another "tough" gun law was enacted on November 30, 1998. Under the National Instant-Check System (NICS), every firearm transaction in America involving a licensed dealer became subject to government scrutiny and approval. As with past laws, Americans were promised that NICS would finally close the "loopholes" allowing criminals access to guns.
It was a fraud, of course, because the stated goal was - and always will be - unattainable. Now, exploiting the recent spate of school shootings to the hilt, Bill Clinton has called for the licensing of handgun owners. In his January 27 State of the Union address, Clinton told us the proposal would make America "the safest big country in the world".
Will Clinton's new plan - and similar ones - lower violent crime? Will it take guns out of the hands of America's juvenile gang-bangers? Will it disarm America's criminals? And will peaceable Americans who want guns continue to adhere to an ever more arduous process for obtaining them?
Perhaps gun-control's "useful idiots" truly believe the answers to be "yes". Bill Clinton doesn't.
The day after NICS became law of the land, Canada implemented a "tough" gun law of its own, the Firearms Act. Today, Canadians are waking up to the reality of Economics 101. In the October 31 edition of the Edmonton Journal, Lorne Gunter summed up Canada's new system of national firearm registration and licensing: "In the nearly 11 months since the Liberals imposed their universal [gun] registry... black market gun sales have boomed."
It's a universal fact of life: if people want something badly enough, someone will supply it, for a profit. More restrictions mean more business for the black market, and even easier access for criminals.
But no matter. To firearm-prohibitionists, success is achieved, not by reducing crime, but by enacting another law which is doomed to fail. And when it does, we'll need a "new" remedy, won't we?
By now, it ought to be perfectly clear that the real defendants in a lawsuit brought for "marketing practices" which have "helped criminals obtain weapons" should be Bill Clinton and the rest of America's anti-self-defense lobby - for selling us a bill of goods they knew was bogus, right from the start.
Dr. Paul Gallant practices Optometry in Wesley Hills, New York. Dr. Joanne Eisen practices dentistry in Old Bethpage, New York. Both are research associates with the Independence Institute, a civil liberties think tank in Golden Colorado, http://i2i.org.
(Note: A slightly edited version of this column by Paul Gallant, entitled
"Black Markets, Fast Guns, Tall Tales in the Weapon-Control Debate", appeared
in the February 21, 2000 edition of The Journal News, Rockland County, NY)