There is a certain anti-gun meme making the rounds on the Internet – and in some broad sense, it no doubt predates the Internet. You have no doubt heard it before: “Why can’t we license guns like cars?” It doesn’t necessarily have to refer to cars – the most modern iteration, put out by left-wing media darling John Oliver, refers to airplanes: “One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change in our regulation of guns.” Other versions of this meme refer to various consumer products – even teddy bears have been invoked – that are ostensibly regulated tighter than firearms. The point is the same: “We have accepted extensive government oversight of this aspect of our lives, but why not guns then?”
Of course, it’s possible – and quite reasonable – to make references to Constitutional law. One can point out, for instance, that driving a car on public roads is not considered a Constitutional right, unlike the right to bear arms. One can point out – reasonably enough – that in many ways cars are actually regulated far less than gun controllers would like us to regulate guns. One can point out that cars are far harder to use safely than guns. These will all be true. One can make many of the same points about air travel as well – that air travel is a privilege, for instance. And those will all be salient and possibly even be technically true. However they will all be missing the main point – and it is the wit of John Oliver that has finally brought home that main fallacy of those approaches.
The thing is, taking off shoes at the airport is actually an example of the worst in political decisionmaking. It is the epitome in the sort of worst-first thinking that has plagued the Western body politic for decades now – take a scary, freakish, rare occurrence (such as the shoe bombing), freak out about it beyond all measure, and then make decisions that both invade people’s freedom and take away their basic dignity based on that. It’s exactly this sort of decisionmaking that has turned the automobile from a wondrous invention that had made people freer, gave them both privacy and mobility, into an endless milking cow for police state intrusions – rolling “checkpoints” that easily turn a ‘seatbelt inspection’ into a search of your car, drunk-driving laws that set the BAC limits for ‘drunknenness’ so low they are below the margin of error of police breathalyzers, mandatory GPS devices in cars, and so forth.
Yet – we are told – we are to adopt the same kind of thinking in terms of guns. Why? Has forcing people to take their shoes off at airports stopped a single terrorist? This is the same sort of thinking that has led to the destruction of Buckyballs because several children ingested them (and apparently one child has died). John Oliver knows – and hopefully his fans know – that this thinking is flawed as applied to shoes and airports. It is flawed when it is applied to cars, or buckyballs. American gun owners are wise to not want the same sort of thinking applied to their guns.
Maybe the next time there’s a freak accident, or a terrorist attack, the American public will be able to react to it as wisely as the gun rights movement reacts to a school shooting. But I won’t be holding my breath.