The Limits of Gun Ownership

The Limits of Gun Ownership
by Harry Browne
October 23, 2003

Gun-rights advocates aren't the only people who
believe that individuals should be free to own
guns. Even gun-control advocates usually
specify that they aren't trying to ban all

But most activists on both sides of the gun
issue say there must be limits on gun


So that guns don't fall into the "wrong" hands.

But if a law could keep dangerous weapons out
of the hands of dangerous people, there would
be virtually no violent crime at all. Just pass
a law specifying that bad people can't own guns
and the problem of gun violence is solved.

Unfortunately, things don't work out that way
in the real world.

The truth is that no gun-control law works
because "bad" people who want guns can always
get them. Either they'll buy them in the
underworld or they'll simply steal them from
good folks like you and me.

But shouldn't there be some limits on gun

No. Such limits don't reduce crime. They either
render innocent people defenseless, give the
police more power than they should have, or
they are simply stupid, unenforceable laws.

         Ex-Cons & Guns

Take, for example, the laws that prevent ex-
convicts from acquiring guns.

Makes sense, doesn't it, that someone with a
criminal record shouldn't be able to acquire a

No, it doesn't.

If a convicted criminal pays his debt to
society, he should have the same rights that
every other citizen has -- the right of free
speech, the right to an attorney, the right to
vote, the right to practice his religion, the
right of habeas corpus, the right to keep and
bear arms.

If he doesn't have the full protection of the
Bill of Rights . . .

* He will be vulnerable to any zealous
prosecutor who wants to railroad him in order
to pad a conviction record.

* He won't be able to speak freely to others.

* He might not be able to attend church.

* He will be helpless to defend himself from
thugs who will have no trouble acquiring guns
in the underworld.

         Dangerous Weapons

But what about assault weapons? Surely, no
innocent person has any need for an assault

Actually, very few people can define what an
assault weapon is. More than anything else,
it's a bogeyman designed to scare people into
thinking that laws are necessary to stop some
folks from running around with weapons that
could kill large numbers of people.

But, yes, there are innocent people who have
good reason to own assault weapons. During most
riots, the police are outnumbered and
intentionally stay clear of gangs that are
looting and vandalizing. Suppose your life
savings are invested in a store the gangs are
about to loot. And suppose you have little or
no insurance because your store is in a
dangerous section of town. How will you defend
the store against the looters? With a knife?
With a handgun against a dozen attackers? Or
with an assault weapon?

If you prevent innocent citizens from acquiring
assault weapons, criminal gangs will still
acquire them -- even if they have to smuggle
them into America from thousands of miles away.
So why pass laws that disarm only the innocent?

         Mad Scientists

But shouldn't there be some limits. Would you
want your next-door neighbor building a nuclear
bomb in his basement?

If someone is building a bomb next door, he
isn't likely to tell you -- or anyone else --
about it. So what good does it do to pass a law
prohibiting it?

Such a law would simply give the police one
more excuse to invade and inspect your home
(not just that of your neighbor).

         Backyard Battalion

Okay, let's make it something out in the open.
Would you want your neighbor to have a tank in
his backyard?

What business is it of mine what my neighbor
wants to keep in his yard? It's his yard, not

If he runs his tank into my yard, he's
trespassing and should be prosecuted. But he
would be trespassing if he ran his car into my
yard, or entered my home without permission, or
burnt garbage that stunk up my home. My only
concern is that he stay on his side of the
boundary -- not what he keeps on his side of the

         Gun Laws Don't Work

You might be able to imagine the perfect law
that allows just the right people to own just
the right types of guns, while prohibiting
other citizens from owning inappropriate

But remember, you're only imagining such a law;
it will never be a reality. Once the issue is
turned over to the politicians, it will be
decided by whoever has the most political
influence -- and that will never be you or I.

Like most laws, every gun law quickly turns
into a tool to reward the friends of the
politically powerful and to harm their enemies.
But it doesn't make America safer.

The only valid policy is to have no laws
regulating the ownership of guns, but to hold
every citizen responsible for whatever harm he
initiates against others -- with or without a

People should never be prosecuted for what they
own, for what they think, for what they eat,
drink, or smoke, or for what they believe. They
should be prosecuted only for the physical harm
they do to others.

And people who do harm others should be
prosecuted -- whether or not a gun is involved,
and whether or not there is hate in one's heart
or liquor on one's breath.