Mises Wire

Gun Ownership Rights Aren’t as Safe as Many Think

As discussed previously, gun-control regulation has a track record of facilitating repressive political regimes. Countries like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Cuba, and present-day Venezuela have witnessed how gun control has given their respective governments a significant advantage in dishing out violence.

In recent decades states have acted in many cases to expand rights to gun ownership. There is no guarantee this will continue, however. If current trends are reversed, how could will it happen?

Why Gun Control in America Has Been Historically So Limited

At first glance, gun confiscation does not appear to be feasible in the United States. With nearly 400 million guns in circulation, mass gun confiscation is already a tall order. It also helps that the United States’ federalist system fosters a strong degree of institutional competition between states.

Citizens and business entities can walk away from states with bad policies that regulate their favorite pastimes and commercial endeavors. Gun companies like Magpul and Mossberg made headlines after moving their operations to more gun-friendly states, when the states they were based in started passing stringent gun control legislation. Such competition between the states puts pressure on politicians to not infringe on their gun rights, lest they want to lose out on commercial activity.

Additionally, cultural factors behind gun ownership is heavily ingrained in the civic and cultural DNA of Americans. From hunting associations to grassroots lobbies, Americans have developed powerful civic institutions that are ready to confront the state should politicians try to transgress on their rights.

Are America Gun Rights Actually Safe from Tyranny?

But are gun rights truly in the clear?

There is reason to believe that gun rights do not possess a magical aura that protects them from government subversion. Although repealing the Second Amendment through the constitutional process of acquiring a two-thirds majority in both chambers of congress and having three-fourths of the states ratifying an amendment would be quite the undertaking, there is still another avenue gun controllers can exploit.

Through landmark Supreme Court decisions, gun controllers could have anti-gun judges re-interpret the Constitution in a way that disregards the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has a long history of re-interpreting the Constitution as a way of justifying government overreach in matters traditionally belonging to the states. This has been the case with the Supreme Court’s acceptance of New Deal legislation and its creation of a federal “right” to abortion.

It also does not help that the Second Amendment’s original decentralized militia model has been gutted, thus exposing several chinks in the Second Amendment’s armor. The militia’s original concept—locally-controlled military units designed to keep federal standing armies in check—has been effectively neutered.

Even though private gun ownership can give standing armies problems, the castration of militia units gives the state a disproportionate advantage in its ability to carry out tyrannical acts like gun confiscation and quell potential unrest.

Last but not least, the power of ever-growing bureaucracies cannot be overstated. James Bovard raises excellent points in an article titled “Should Gun Owners Fear the Deep State?” The deep state, as described by James Bovard, “refers to the officials who secretly wield power permanently in Washington, often in federal agencies with vast sway and little accountability”.

The FBI, which is already mired in controversy in its attempts to undermine a sitting President of the United States, is also the agency in charge of federal background checks for firearms. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the bedrock of federal gun control, and has remained in place for two decades despite evidence pointing to its ineffectiveness in stopping crime. Through NICS, the federal government has access to the personal information of gun buyers. However, the FBI supposedly destroys these records after a firearms transaction is approved.

So there’s nothing to be afraid of right?

The Ignored Threat of Bureaucratic Tyranny

Knowing the nature of bureaucracies, gun rights advocates must be prepared for the worst. Although economist Ludwig von Mises did not address gun rights with much profundity, his insights on bureaucracies and interventionism have carryover into the realm of gun regulation.

In the book Bureaucracy, Mises highlighted how bureaucratic tyranny is a whole different beast. Mises contended that the “worst law is better than bureaucratic tyranny.” He also recognized how difficult it is to roll-back government growth. In a passage from Socialism, Mises commented that it “is indeed one of the principal drawbacks of every kind of interventionism that it is so difficult to reverse the process.”

A solid citizen lobby can vote anti-gun politicians out of office, but they will face bigger challenges in holding bureaucracies accountable. In the most extreme cases, it may require a wholesale abolition of the agency in question, a tall order it today’s climate of explosive government growth.

The Long-Term Implications of Interventionism

Since we know that the nature of the government is to expand, we must ask the gun controllers an honest question:

How much more “common sense” gun control is needed?

Let’s face it, mass shootings still occur in many places where “common sense” gun control measures like universal background checks are on the books. When those laws fail, what follow-up measures will be taken? We may not know what the gun controllers’ end game is, but given the nature of state growth over the past century, the pro-gun crowd’s “paranoia” may actually be warranted.

Even if the US were to pass gun registration and its political institutions remained intact, it would still not be off the hook in the long-term.

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