By John F. Di Leo -
Reflections on Gun Control and the Role of Government
Residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin get their water from the city. Like most cities, the government operates water treatment plants, which filter out all sorts of impurities, both living organisms and other contaminants, so that people can trust the water that runs from their faucets.
In the early 1990s, an environmentalist city government made a few changes in the city’s water filtration network. Making environmentally-friendly changes to a treatment system may be nice to protozoa such as cryptosporidium, but it’s not very nice to the residents and businesses dependent on the water it produces.
In late March and early April of 1993, the Howard Avenue Water Treatment Facility on the south side of Milwaukee let enough cryptosporidia get through to sicken over 400,000 people with a truly miserable gastrointestinal infection. For at least 103 of these sufferers – the very young, the very old, the sick, the weak, particularly those with already compromised immune systems such as AIDS patients – it was to prove fatal.
In a matter of weeks, the city government identified the problem, and returned to its prior filtration approach, which had always worked fine before. Milwaukee again provided clean water for its residents, and the residents learned a painful lesson about depending on government for the fundamentals of human life.
A water treatment plant has one key job: taking in water as fast as it comes (which can be very fast indeed, when it rains, or when snow is melting), and purifying it to return it to the city’s water supply. A political administration may well set many other goals for that facility, such as cost control, hiring practices, community outreach, and so forth, but the first focus must always be on the job of purifying that water. All other goals, however worthy, must be secondary.
The Criminal Justice System
In a similar vein, governments operate a criminal justice system – a network of police, courts, and prisons, cutting across the local, county, state and federal levels – designed to filter out the detritus from society, reducing the risk to the rest of us of rape, robbery, drug dealing and murder, by removing the contaminants who have been caught perpetrating such crimes.
Society may have other goals for that system, such as cost control, hiring practices, community outreach, and so forth, but the first focus must always be on the job of legally removing the criminal element from society, enabling law-abiding citizens to go about their lives in safety. We may also use the police to direct traffic or give parking tickets; we may also use our courts for intellectual property cases and divorce law… but we must never forget that all these other purposes, however worthy, must be secondary to government’s primary role of removing proven villains from our midst.
Over the past half-century, our nation has compromised our criminal justice system by forgetting, or at least minimizing, the system’s primary duty. The American Left has consciously weakened our ability to convict and imprison known villains, through such tools as the technicality acquittal and the exclusionary rule, through prison-emptying directives when jail isn’t comfortable enough to satisfy a bleeding-heart judge, through limitations on the death penalty so severe that it can almost never be applied, through porous borders that allow in hundreds of thousands of gang recruiters and drug dealers from other countries.
As a result, taxpayers pay millions and millions of dollars – per criminal – for prisons to shelter and feed these murderers, drug pushers and violent rapists for decades – villains who simply ought to be executed for the price of a single bullet. This unnecessarily occupies jail space and chews up funding, so that prosecutors must allow plea bargains for other criminals – plea bargains that turn criminals loose much too early – and the system must abandon prosecution of many other cases entirely.
So we release known criminals back into society without even trying, not only increasing the risk to the law-abiding by increasing the population of criminals in our midst, but even worse, boosting the general self-confidence of the criminal element; if they don’t have to fear long jail time or capital punishment, why should an immoral thug feel any self-restraint at all?
Key to understanding the scope of the issue is remembering the rule of unseen consequences: in analyzing any government choice, we must not only count what we see, but count what opportunities were lost by the choice we made. Executing a murderer, violent rapist or drug pusher, for the price of a bullet, would have freed up funds and jail space for prosecution of other criminals. Having those other criminals in jail would have prevented the crimes they committed while they were free. Preventing those crimes would have enabled the victims to have never lost the money that was stolen from them, or to have never suffered the injuries of the attack, or to have never been pulled into a gang or into an addiction by the criminal who was on the street because of our weakened and overburdened system in the first place. The explosion of crime in our cities is the direct result of the unnecessary warping of our criminal justice system.
America’s Safety Shield
Fortunately, however, this nation does have a partial suit of armor to protect the body politic from this onslaught of uncaught and unjailed criminals. America has the most heavily-armed law-abiding citizenry of any country on earth.
We have states that allow open-carry of firearms, so that the criminal walking down the street is constantly reminded – by the daily sight of other pedestrians’ belt holsters – that some of his prospective marks are probably armed better than him.
We have states that allow concealed-carry of firearms, so that same criminal can remember that for every prospective victim who’s visibly armed, there may well be another two or three whose guns are hidden… and there’s no way for him to know which ones.
And of course, there are states that wisely allow both.
In addition, law-abiding citizens – read that also as “potential marks” – have guns in their apartments, their shops, their barns, their garages, their houses and outbuildings. A criminal never really knows – when he breaks into a place – whether he’ll encounter a mark who will refuse to be a victim, a mark who will shoot back, or even shoot first.
This is what keeps crime down, in a country that releases murderers on purpose. This is what keeps crime from going through the roof, in a nation where muggers aren’t even kept overnight because there isn’t room, where gang recruiters, brawlers, rapists and attempted murderers are released en masse whenever a judge says the prison is too crowded.
The criminals are out there, but if you live in rural areas, small towns or decent suburbs, they know the odds are good you’ll have a gun, so they usually leave you alone, and focus on the big cities, where gun bans and gun-free zones ensure them free-range opportunities, a dense population of undefended potential marks.
A big city is to a criminal what those winter snowplow trucks are for drivers in a snowstorm; the cities have cleared a clean path for the criminals, so they can charge ahead without fear. The big cities ban gun ownership and carrying outside the home, or they restrict it so heavily that self-defense is impractical or even impossible.
So the big cities have massive crime, even as crime levels outside the big cities continue to drop. It’s all due to this: the Constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to keep and bear arms, protecting most of the country from the torrential rain of criminals whom our criminal justice system will not lock up, and whom our porous borders cannot keep out.
A Statistical Gap
Students of public policy in America have grown to depend on government agencies for statistics. The data on criminal activity that results in police reports is there, available for free if you know where to look, on almost every question one can imagine.
How many shootings in Chicago in 2015, for example? 2900.
And how many killings in Chicago in 2015? 468.
But how many crimes were thwarted by guns in 2015? The government doesn’t track that particular statistic, perhaps because they know – due to the law of unseen consequences – that they can never capture them all. With the exception of rare and wise analysts like John R. Lott, Jr, most statisticians track the gun only as a tool used by the criminal; they don’t count the times when the presence of a gun stopped a crime from occurring, or when an armed victim or passerby drove off a perpetrator, or, better yet, removed the perpetrator from the equation permanently.
We know the number of “gun crimes” because they are reported and recorded. That number cannot be statistically understated, since there’s a police report even if the criminal is never apprehended.
But we don’t know the number of “gun defenses,” both because the good guy’s use of a firearm isn’t tracked, and also because there is often nothing to report. When a criminal sees the bulge of a shoulder holster or a sidearm, and changes his mind, there’s nothing to report, but that gun did thwart a crime. When a homeowner catches a robber in the act and holds him for the police, that gun too has thwarted not only this crime, but all the other crimes that the robber, mugger or rapist would have gone on to commit if he had remained free.
The criminal doesn’t mug one person per year, whether he’s caught or not; he keeps on mugging until he’s caught. Same with the home burglar or store robber, same with the rapist or drug pusher. Every time an armed citizen catches a criminal, he hasn’t just thwarted that crime, he’s prevented five, or ten, or twenty more.
So if someone were to step in and introduce an artificial barrier to these armed civilians, making it harder for them to be armed civilians, that would be a great gift to the criminal element, and a severe blow to the law-abiding citizenry. And sadly, such gifts to the criminal element have become the stock-in-trade of the modern Democratic Party.
The Armed Citizen
There are, fortunately, a few sources, such as the American Rifleman magazine and regular local news sources, that report the use of firearms on the right side of the law. In addition to the obvious use of weapons in the hands of police, private citizens thwart hundreds of thousands of crimes every year through their right – guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment and not subject to manipulation by a corrupt government – to defend themselves with firearms.
Reviewing just a few recent examples (courtesy of the American Rifleman) will help see the many ways in which the 2nd Amendment combats crime.
Example 1: A man with an 8-inch knife broke into a home in Missouri, and attacked the residents; one of whom was able to retrieve his own gun and hold the attacker at gunpoint until police arrived.
Barack Obama's action this week is intended to stop this.
No, not to stop the thug from attacking. He wants to stop the homeowners from defending themselves.
Example 2: A young Detroit man was attacked by three armed muggers. They threatened him and demanded his money. He handed them his money, and as they were counting it, he drew his legally-permitted concealed-carry weapon and started firing, hitting two of them, who were subsequently arrested at a hospital.
Barack Obama's current action is intended to stop this.
No, not to stop the three thugs from attacking and robbing law-abiding citizens, but to stop those law-abiding citizens from defending themselves.
Example 3: Last fall, at a Pennsylvania gas station, a carjacker pulled a women out of her car – with her children stuck in the car – and the car lurched forward, charging into the gas station where it was fortunately stopped by the pump structures before the kids could be hurt… And a passer-by with a handgun stopped the carjacker and held him until police arrived.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the rest of the Democratic Party want to stop this sort of thing.
No, they'res not interested in stopping the carjackings. They just want to stop that passerby from being able to stop the crime-in-progress and detain the dangerous criminal for police.
“But We Must Do Something!”
How often we hear the plaintive cry – “But we must do something!” – from people who have consciously, intentionally, chosen to undermine the very measures that would indeed control gun crimes (and all other crimes).
Because of Democrat measures, judges, and bureaucrats, for over a generation, it has been official government policy to:
- Make it harder to convict criminals, through the inventions of exclusionary rules and other technicality acquittal tools,
- Combat mandatory sentencing and other common-sense measures to remove proven criminals from the free population,
- Curtail the death penalty – which is clearly the only logical penalty for so many violent crimes – or at least make it so expensive that states are afraid to impose it,
- Registering jailed criminals to vote, and extending the franchise to felons, making the criminal element another valued member of the Democratic Party’s dependable stable of interest groups.
When such people shout “But we must do something!”, the thoughtful observer can only say “No, thanks. We’ve seen what you do, and we’re better off without it.”
But the president comes out and issues executive orders to violate the constitution anyway, again and again, not only failing to help the situation, but in fact making it worse:
- The term “Executive Order” is largely misunderstood. The Constitution directs the President to execute the law; writing regulations is therefore within his responsibilities. But – as the famous Youngstown Sheet and Tube case makes clear – these orders can only be to flesh out the manner of implementing a law passed by Congress or a function assigned to the President in the Constitution, and they cannot violate the Bill of Rights. Barack Obama claims that he “must act, because Congress did not,” and it is just another of his long list of blatant lies. Congress has acted, in many ways, just not in the unlawful and counter-productive ways he desires. His unconstitutional orders are not valid law.
- One of the worst of his current actions is the illegal effort to declare any private seller of guns, regardless of quantity (including, for example, an old man with failing eyesight, who can no longer see to fire his gun, or a Parkinson’s sufferer who can no longer hold it steady, who sells it to a cousin or friend to help with his medical bills) to be a gun dealer. These requirements are not only ludicrous and unfair, but unconstitutional, as only Congress has the right to institute regulation of even interstate commerce. The president is creating a rule solely for the purposes of making law-abiding citizens into criminals and driving small businesses or collectors out of business.
- Another harmful – and illegal – example of the error of the administration’s approach has been its efforts to use other agencies, and other unrelated subjects, for gun control purposes. The Veterans Administration, without psychiatric diagnosis or due process of law, has been confiscating weapons from law-abiding veterans on trumped-up claims of mental illness. The Department of Health and Human Services inserted requirements into obamacare, requiring doctors to ask patients if there are guns in the home, to give the government the kind of registry specifically forbidden by federal law, and to give the government the tyrannical tool of threatening to take children away from parents because of an administration’s political position.
This administration’s continuous abuse of the Executive Order process is of course an impeachable offense, and the perpetrator would have been out long ago if the necessary majority of US Senators was interested in obeying their oaths to defend the Constitution.
But the two remaining lessons are these:
- We must recognize how the criminality of leftist policy has pervaded the federal government, by seeping into agencies one would never expect. You fear gun control in the BATF, in the DoJ, not at HHS or the VA, but it’s everywhere now. Like a parasitic infection, unconstitutional gun control – and so many other socialist goals as well – has spread across the entire panorama of the federal government. The program of the Left has long been to move leftist policy in many directions, so that it’s harder to remove when wiser administrations are elected.
- We must never say “…and these measures don’t even help.” If they just “didn’t help,” that wouldn’t be so bad… it would just be a waste of money. We must remember that bad government policy is never result-neutral: if it doesn’t help, then it actually hurts. These gun control measures not only fail to reduce crime, much more importantly, they cause more crime, by freeing more criminals to commit more crimes, by tying up the criminal justice system so it can’t capture and imprison the real criminals, and by reducing the number of armed law-abiding citizens in the population who would otherwise be thwarting crimes, every day.
The Resident of the White House has been depriving law-abiding citizens of their Constitutional rights for seven years now, and he has another year in which to do damage. His eventual replacement will have a great deal of damage to undo.
January 20, 2017 can’t get here soon enough.
Copyright 2016 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based writer and international trade expert. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing this column in Illinois Review for seven years.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut, and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo.
A big problem with the President’s Tuesday proclamation is that people who violate the licensing requirement may do so unwittingly. It is up to the prosecutor to determine whether a given sale was illegal, after the fact.
Wasn’t it King George III that used ex post facto laws to prosecute American colonists. Too bad we didn’t have a Constitutional Scholar in the White House at the time.
The 1993 law specifies that those selling firearms for substantial income must be licensed, but those selling from a private collection, even large collections, are exempt. We can expect an immediate challenge to the new “rules”, which aren’t even spelled out.
In fact, the so-called “gun show loophole” accounts for about 1% guns used in crime. The vast majority, nearly 80%, come from face-to-face sales and from relatives, which continue to be exempt from regulation under federal law.
The rest of Tuesday’s announcements were, in the words of ex-AG Michael Makowsky, “rearranging furniture” without any notable changes.
Instead of the impossible (at least, unconstitutional) task of keeping guns out the hands of criminals, how about a concerted effort to keep criminals’ hands away from guns. Put them away for 5-10 years instead of the 3 months and parole typical of Illinois convictions.
John, your problem is you make too much sense.
This is a government of Liberals, and Liberals ALWAYS feel sorry for all the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons.
Reagan 381 Executive Orders
Bush Jr 291 Executive Orders
Obama 157 Executive Orders.
Okay, “no really”, it looks like you need to understand what Executive Orders are, and why a simple list comparing the counts of different presidents’ EOs is utterly meaningless on its own.
I’ll explain, just for the record…
Executive Orders aren’t automatically illegal or unconstitutional just because they bear the name “Executive Order” or “Executive Action”… It doesn’t matter what you call them; they’re rules issued by the executive branch.
Too many conservatives assume all EOs are unconstitutional by definition, and too many liberals assume that by electing a president, he has the right to do anything he pleases for four (or Heaven forbid, eight) years, so he can issue EOs on anything at all.
Both assumptions are wrong.
In fact, presidents must issue EOs to flesh out the details on many bills that Congress passes. His job is to execute the law, and so any EO that is written within the boundaries of properly passed legislation (unless the law is unconstitutional) is likely legal and proper, even necessary.
For example, Congress passes a tax, the president issues an order to say which form will be used to collect that tax, and through which agency it will be processed, and so forth.
The problem is, as SCOTUS’ helpful ruling in the 1952 Youngstown case made very clear, an EO must either be clearly within the bounds of a presidential power stated in the Constitution, or be clearly within the bounds of a law passed by congress. It cannot go an inch beyond what Congress or the Constitution have authorized.
So for example, if Congress says to issue a 5% tax on 10% of the population, has to write rules for the IRS to collect that tax, but the president cannot write the EO to collect a 6% tax on 12% of the population; he can NOT go BEYOND the authority that Congress gave him in the law they passed.
An EO must remain entirely within existing law, and cannot infringe on the protections of the Bill of Rights. Ever.
Another thing that Youngstown made crystal clear is that a president cannot issue a rule contrary to action already taken by Congress, so if for example Congress said no to something, the president cannot do it anyway and say “Well, I’m just doing it because Congress failed to act.” In fact, the mere fact that Congress considered something and voted it DOWN clearly PROVES that the president has been denied the power to do so. Again, as Youngstown Sheet and Tube v Sawyer put it, where Congress has ruled, the President’s hands are tied.
So yes, EOs are not unusual, and a ten foot stack of them could conceivably be perfectly valid. Just not obama’s… because obama never obeys the legal strictures I’ve described above. He violates the law practically every time he picks up his pen. His current stack of EOs are invalid, not because they are EOs, but because they violate the Constitution and because they are in direct contradiction to laws passed by Congress.
John F. Di Leo
say what about that executive order reagan used to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants?
you sir are an hypocrite. Its ok when a Republican does it.
just home many things did Bush and Reagan work around congress??
write all the words you want. your bluster proves the point.
ps 92% of the country backs Obama closing loopholes for gunshows and mail order. This actions infringes the rights of the insane and criminals at most.
no this one way criminals will never get a gun again… yep they’ll be a black market. But at least the legal options have been shut down COMPLETELY.
you are on the losing side of this,… AND Obama is NOT running for re-election. Your ire is wasted.
hey did you know? The Emancipation Proclamation was an EXECUTIVE ORDER.
From Lincoln the man you claim LURV…. lol
There are a couple of other executive orders that are worse.
From the list I read, there was one calling for federal health agencies to study the “root causes” of gun violence and offer solutions. Since the leaders of these agencies, who Obama appointed, have already expressed anti-gun sentiments, we can guess which way that will go and what the recommendations will be (banning gun videos and talk online by private citizens and gun confiscation backed by denial of health care access).
Another one was to set up a program for government funding for anti-gun propaganda. I rather expect the media will soon be full of carefully crafted, tear-jerker commercials call for the banning of all guns. Likely they have been reading those studies that show once the ball gets rolling for something that the culture might currently be against, once perceived support reaches a certain level the herd instinct of humanity kicks in and support skyrockets as most will not want to be left behind and be “uncool.” They might be able to accomplish a tidal shift on guns rather quickly since the mass media is totally complicit.
There is another one that left the “rule making” to the bureaucracies again. Obama loves this, letting the rule making to the bureaucracies because they largely act in the shadows and few people are aware of the abuses that have already come. If allowed to make rules about guns, it won’t go very well either.
These are the ones I think are much more dangerous than the gun dealer rules because they are designed to manipulate the public and the majority of people aren’t aware of it nor will most be able to resist.
You like making up things, don’t you?
Reagan signed laws giving amnesty. I wish he’d vetoed them. But his EOs were always within the authority given him by either the Constitution or by specific legislation.
Remember, I’m not automatically saying that all Republican EOs are good or that all Democrat EOs are bad.
I’m saying that IF an EO is written, you have to see whether it’s legal, whether it’s staying within the bounds of the law that authorized it.
Obama uses EOs to expand his own power beyond power granted him by Congress or the Constitution. This Is Illegal.
Last one I’ll respond to. I’m too busy for your hogwash.
Mr anonymous “no really”, you continue to believe the lies that the left spew. Who cares if people agree with closing loopholes that don’t really exist?
If Congress hasn’t authorized the president to do something, he can’t legally do it.
Go ahead and be angry at congress if you want, since they’re not passing a goofball law you want THAT WOULDN’T PREVENT ANY OF THESE CRIMES ANYWAY – but don’t turn the law upside down by demanding that the president do something illegal just because majorities in congress disagree with you on the issue.
That’s why Lincoln urged passage of the 13th amendment. He knew what he was doing. POTUS does not.
Like an economist once said, ‘there are no solutions, only trade-offs.’
Just another comment… The criminals really don’t care about the constitution and never will. Don’t waste your breath arguing with liberals.
In a similar vein, if you have socialism that reduces each individual to economic units, you have to have abortion.
I compliment Mr. DiLeo on an excellent article. Articulate and well constructed. A very rare thing in this age.