How Bad Laws Perpetuate Crisis

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

How Bad Laws Perpetuate Crisis

by Ari Armstrong, July 1999

Time and again throughout the history of the United States we see the same cycle repeat itself. The government "does something" about a real or perceived social problem, but its controls only make matters worse, resulting in unintended bad consequences. Intrusive laws inevitably create further crisis, which rallies big-government activists to call for even more controls.

Several government policies contributed to the Columbine shootings. Government policies on guns made schools less safe than they otherwise might have been, and government policies on education contributed to an environment of amorality and irresponsibility.

The 1995 Federal Gun Free School Zones Act (passed before the school shootings of the past couple years), states, "It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone" (18 U.S.C. 922(q)(2)(a)).

In other words, parents and faculty are prohibited by Federal law from bringing a gun into or near a school. Fortunately, Principal Joel Myrick of Pearl High School, Mississippi willfully broke that law last year, leaving a pistol in his automobile parked on school grounds. When a deranged student opened fire in the school, Myrick retrieved his gun from his car, re-entered the school, and stopped the killings.

None of the recently proposed gun control measures would have stopped the Columbine tragedy. A well-trained parent or teacher in the school with a pistol might have.

Many gun rights advocates refer to such laws as the Gun Free School Zones Act as "criminal safety zones." Criminals can commit mayhem in such areas with less fear of facing armed opposition. The potential of facing deadly force is a powerful deterrent to criminals. That's why states with concealed carry laws consistently show a decrease of violent crimes. That's why Australia, after passing draconian gun-control measures, saw an increase of armed robbery of 44% and an increase of home break-ins of 50%. An armed society is a safe society, and the more gun-control measures the government passes, the more innocent people will die.

Is enhanced public safety really the goal of those who denigrate the right of self-defense? Why is it that the Clinton administration has prosecuted only a handful of the thousands of violations of Federal gun-control laws over the last several years? If these administrators honestly believe gun-control laws protect the public, why don't they enforce these laws? Instead, the existing laws go unenforced, even as anti-gun activists clamor for more controls.

Professor John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, suggested May 17 on a national radio show a possible motivation for the incessant call for more and more ineffective gun-control measures. Why, for instance, should the Brady Bill be extended to cover private transactions at gun shows? These laws would have absolutely no effect on reducing crime, but would only lead to more private transactions outside of gun shows. As Lott argued, then the opponents of the right of self-defense would say, "See? The existing law is not working to reduce crime. There is a 'loophole' for private transactions outside of gun shows, so the Federal government must now regulate all transactions of firearms."

As soon as the Federal government regulates the sale of all firearms, it will thereby be able to create a database of all gun owners who comply with the law. With such a database, the Federal government will be able to confiscate all legal guns. This scenario cannot be chalked up to paranoia, as the leaders of the gun-control movement, including Bill Clinton, publicly call for the abolition of all hand-guns, if not all guns of every kind.

Of course, the confiscation of guns, if the political process regresses to that level, will not work as prettily as the gun-control elitists imagine. This writer has never met a gun owner who intends to comply with any such law. Those who love freedom and individual responsibility will never become defenseless victims of criminals and tyrants.

If government policies created less-safe schools, they also helped create schools that discourage moral behavior. In today's government schools, inept bureaucrats constantly impose the latest teaching fads which conflict with real learning and leave students intellectually adrift.

Children are forced to sit obediently in boring classes, and over four million of them are then issued the psychiatric drug Ritalin or Prozac when they get fidgety. (Apparently, most of the killers in the recent school shootings were on such drugs.)

Government schools must not teach the values of many parents. However, they may (and usually do) teach moral relativism, sexual promiscuity, and radical environmentalism.

"Self-esteem" is often separated in government schools from self-responsibility and achievement. When a culture teaches its children that they are "special," regardless of how they act, it's a short step to Eric Harris's statement, "My belief is that if I say something, it goes."

Schools are gigantic, expensive, and impersonal. Many students join social cliques which exhibit hostility toward others. Administrators have trouble even identifying students with behavioral problems, and a harder time ejecting them from school.

Of course, only a portion of the responsibility for the tragedy lies with government officials and activists who empower them. The causes of the Columbine shooting are many and complex. The two young killers acted in nihilistic rage, refusing to take responsibility for their own lives and blaming random strangers for their troubles. The parents of the killers failed to intervene as their children built scores of bombs in the family garage and otherwise engaged in violent activities. Gratuitous violence in popular media and art probably helps channel feelings of rage. The copy-cat syndrome appears to have had some affect on the numerous school shootings. School officials didn't pick up on warning signs, and police didn't immediately storm the building after the shooting started.

To lay partial responsibility of the tragedy on government policies is not to relieve the two young killers of moral culpability. One may fully blame the atrocity on the young men who planted the bombs and pulled the triggers, and yet also point out other contributing factors. To draw an analogy, a bank robber is morally culpable for stealing money, but the bank is properly responsible for providing reasonable security measures to lessen the chances of theft.

Also, let us remember what constitutes "the government" in the United States. Legislators are (usually) elected by popular vote, and many of their policies are driven by ideological activists and special interest groups. So the power of the government arises not only with politicians and bureaucrats, but with a significant minority, or even a majority, of the population.

The founders of the modern freedom movement, prominently Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand, point out that many or most laws are passed in reaction to problems caused by the government. The new laws in turn create even more problems, perpetuating the vicious cycle. As Mises pointed out, the tendency for bad laws to beget more bad laws will not change simply because we suffer endless tragedy caused by government interventions. Rather, proponents of freedom must argue with clarity and persuasive force that social problems cannot be solved by handing yet more responsibility over to the politicians, but only by returning social power to individuals and stopping the government from exacerbating cultural ills.

The Colorado Freedom