Gun Laws and the Myth of the Slippery Slope


When I drive a car, how many serial numbers am I required to carry with me? The car has a government-issued license-plate number. It has a vehicle identification number that I'm not at liberty to remove or obscure. I have to carry a government-issued driver's license with a license number. If I'm stopped by the police, I have to surrender this license and a registration form. And on and on.

And yet no one, apart from a tiny handful of ultra-libertarians, ever argues that we're on a slippery slope to the seizure of all private vehicles by a totalitarian government. Even car-related laws that generate public outrage -- red-light cameras, GPS tracking of cars by the police -- don't lead to fears that the freedom to drive itself is on the verge of being taken away. People get drivers' licenses, stop at red lights, pull over when the cops demand it -- and mostly still feel that they have the freedom to drive where they please. They still look at cars (some models, at least) and imagine liberation on the open road.

Why is it impossible for gun owners to feel the same way?

What's odd is that gun owners don't even seem to feel tyrannized by hunting regulations. Think about it: we have hunting seasons and hunting licenses and restrictions on the numbers of certain animals you're allowed to shoot -- and while quite a few people flout these laws, there's no well-funded mass movement arguing that all of these laws should be abolished, that anyone should be able to hunt any animal at any time, and that failure to allow this is jackbooted fascism.

We see that one of James Holmes's weapons in the Aurora massacre was an AR-15, a gun that would have been illegal to purchase under the now-expired federal assault weapons ban. We see that he purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition via the Internet over the past 60 days, and that he bought four of his weapons at local gun shops over that same period, and that his AR-15 may have had a once-banned high-capacity magazine.

But, see, we can't even consider reinstating the assault weapons ban, or the ban on "large capacity ammunition feeding devices," or consider one-gun-a-month laws or tighter regulation of online ammo sales, because, we're told, every restriction of this kind is a step on a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to confiscation of all privately owned weapons, and turn America into a brutal totalitarian dictatorship.

Yet we never say anything like that about cars, or even hunting rifles. We don't say it about regulations on other consumer products -- we may not like, say, restrictions on the sale of Sudafed that are intended to try to slow meth production, but we never say that such laws will someday lead to the banning of private Band-Aid and aspirin purchases. We don't think the banking system is totalitarian because there are reporting requirements on large cash transfers.

I'm not saying everyone agrees with these laws, or should. I'm just saying we pass them on the assumption that they won't lead to full-blown fascism and, if we decide they're pointless or abusive of our liberties, we can alter what we've done.

We're not allowed to consider that possibility about guns -- not anymore. Try to tighten any gun law a tiny bit in most of the country and the response is that all liberty is disappearing. So we can't try anything. 

That's crazy. The gun-law slope is not maximally slippery. If anything, it's the least slippery slope we have.



No More Mister Nice Blog / By Steve M

Posted at July 23, 2012, 4:00am

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