By Nathan Kelly
The politicization of mass shootings have become an American pastime, but sacrificing treasured freedoms in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy will not make us safer. Instead, politicians should reduce barriers for people to exercise their right to self-defense.
I first learned about the shooting in San Bernardino from social media in the early evening of December 2. Even before the blood of the victims had dried, social media was full of calls for more gun control.
Before the names of the attackers or the victims were even known, CBS News was running a compilation of celebrity reactions to the shooting, as if an affluent elite with their own security details are a source of authority on the prevention of crime.
Now begins the onslaught of calls for the government to “do something,” or for “common-sense solutions” to gun violence — a rhetorical trick designed to position peoples’ pet-policy positions as “common sense.”
Common sense within the gun-owning community is that laws inhibiting access to firearms means that only law-abiding people will have reduced access. Criminals, especially those intent on mass murder, are by definition lawbreakers and are unlikely to abide by any new laws.
Only a few days after the attack, we learned that the weapons used were purchased through the proper legal channels, complying with federal and state law to pass a background check, and to buy rifles that are compliant with California’s ban on so-called assault weapons. Clearly the laws already on the books did little to stop this attack.
California already has President Barack Obama’s gun-control wish list in effect: background checks, limits on “high capacity” magazines, and bans on “assault weapons.” So, why do gun-control advocates think that new measures will be any more effective?
California has an A rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The carrying of handguns for self-defense is all but prohibited in the state; and it is a “may issue” state, meaning that the government only may issue a concealed-carry permit to you even if you’ve met the state’s prohibitive requirements.
In practice, these requirements ensure that only the state’s affluent and wealthy have the right to self-defense, and they clearly failed to prevent this latest attack.
As counterintuitive as it may seem to anti-gun activists, more guns have actually been shown to reduce the prevalence of violent crime. The incidence of violent crime is now at a multi-decade low, while the supply and proliferation of guns has grown.
This is, at least partly, because the federal ban on supposed assault weapons has expired, and every state in the country has adopted some form of concealed-carry legislation, allowing people to carry handguns for self-defense. Unfortunately, the public as a whole remains largely unaware of this trend.
President Obama can look to his own state of Illinois as an example of the successes of policies that liberalize access to guns. In the first quarter, after Illinois became the last state to legalize the concealed carry of handguns, Chicago saw its least violent quarter in 50 years.
As a gun owner — licensed by the state of Ohio to carry a concealed handgun — I can say that the process to obtain a gun and receive a permit to carry it for self-defense is already prohibitive enough. I had to go through the redundant process of passing two identical background checks; one when I purchased my handgun and one performed by my local sheriff’s department.
Both of these cost a substantial amount of money. Add to that the price of the gun itself, and the cost of the training course required to receive the permit, and my right to self-defense actually costs upwards of US$700.
And it’s worth noting that my experiences are in the relatively lax “shall issue” state of Ohio. California, New York, Maryland, Illinois, and the District of Columbia all have far higher costs (both in time and money) associated with obtaining a license.
These prohibitive costs and regulations disarm law-abiding people, leaving them vulnerable to the criminal element in society. And they disproportionately hurt those who can’t rely on rapid police response times or even on the police themselves.
Instead of making the situation worse, politicians should reduce barriers for people, especially people in urban areas, to exercise their right to self-defense. Unfortunately, they will likely use this tragedy as an excuse for expanding state power and curtailing access to firearms, making self-defense even harder for the people who need it most.
Nathan Kelly is a Young Voices Advocate, who works at a nonprofit educational institution in the DC area. Nathan is a gun owner and holds a concealed carry license.