I don’t shy away from debates on gun control, and the merits and drawbacks of legislative attempts to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
However, there’s one argument that immediately makes me disengage from the debate, because it shows that the person putting it forth has a.) not thought their own argument through, and b.) not the faintest clue on the subject.
This is it:
“Ban all guns.”
Instead of rebutting that proposal with my own detailed argument, complete with Constitutional footnotes, graphs, and other evidence, I usually just counter with a personal anecdote.
You see, when I was a teenager, living in Germany (which has gun control laws that would make Massachusetts residents say, “Damn, those people are strict over there”), there was this boy living on my street, two houses down. He was good-natured, but a bit slow, always lagging a year or two behind the other kids his age in school.
Now, academically, that boy was a dud, but he had a talent. He could make a functioning firearm out of anything. He had a little metal-working shop in his parents’ basement, with a bunch of ordinary tools you can pick up at any Home Depot. He spent his time figuring out the mechanics of things by trial and error, making a whole lot of scrap metal along the way, but after a few months of playing with stuff, he got so good at making guns that he could make a functioning revolver out of nothing but bar stock steel and scrap metal. (They were smoothbore guns because he didn’t have the equipment to cut grooves and lands into a barrel, but they worked fine at conversational distance.) Shotguns were a no-brainer, being much simpler to put together.
He also picked up some chemical knowledge along the way, and could manufacture his own cartridges and shotgun shells from stuff you can pick up at any CVS or gardening supply store without raising an eyebrow.
Now, any time someone comes up with the genius idea that banning all guns is the solution to the gun violence problem, I tell them this anecdote. Here’s a not particularly gifted teenager in a country with extensive gun control laws, and he can teach himself basement gun manufacturing skills in a few months. What kind of laws could you possibly pass that would prevent someone like him from making guns and ammunition? What kind of laws could you pass that could keep someone smarter (and motivated by the profits inherent in the manufacture of an illegal in-demand commodity) from doing the same?
Most American hobbyist basements have a much more impressive suite of power tools and equipment than this boy had in his basement. You can walk into any Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick up a complete metalworking shop if you’re so inclined. (Hell, your local Wal-Mart probably has all the ingredients and tools needed to make a working firearm.) People are incredibly crafty when it comes to making stuff they like, and twice as crafty again when there’s a healthy profit to be made along the way. Ban all guns, and you’ll do to guns what we did to drugs—you’ll create a vast and uncontrolled black market with obscene profit guarantees for anyone willing to ignore your ban. (Not that we have historical examples of such a thing happening, or anything.) Knowing the ingenuity and general “You’re Not The Boss Of Me” attitudes of most Americans, there’ll be a new and exciting cottage industry springing up within ten minutes of a total gun ban being announced.
So, as soon as that idea comes up, I put a brake on the debate, and ask the person coming up with the “Ban all guns!” genius plan to address the points above. How are you going to accomplish a complete gun ban, and prevent people from simply making their own? Ban all metalworking tools? Register lathes and metal drill bits? Put serial numbers on bar stock?
The technological genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no stuffing it back in. In order to get rid of all guns, you’d have to erase the knowledge of all related subjects from the heads of people: metallurgy, chemistry, and so on. (That doesn’t even address the question of what you’re going to do with all the millions of guns already out there—guns that suddenly become high-value contraband that can either be turned in to the authorities for a coupon for sneakers, or sold to Crazy Eddie’s Rolling Gun Store for a hefty stack of cash.)
So, if you want to have a debate about gun laws, the effectiveness thereof, and what measures you can realistically take to keep bad people from shooting good people, I’ll gladly debate the issue with you. If, however, you drag out the Ultima Ratio of gun control, cross your arms, and say, “Let’s just ban all guns”, understand why I’ll stop wasting my time at that point, because that goal is just about as realistic to achieve as banning pound cake.