Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Bullets and Big Gulps

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, January 15, 2013 --  

America's gun nuts used to be vanguards of liberty. Now they're just nuts.

When Mayor Bloomberg's large soda ban takes effect in March, parched New Yorkers will be relieved to find Big Gulps for sale at the 7-Eleven on Amsterdam avenue. The exemption of grocers from the ban has caused grumbling by restaurant and theater owners who will face fines for selling any soda larger than 16 ounces.1

City residents have also grumbled that the mayor isn't their nanny. Yet no organized political opposition has formed to stop the ban. And while increasingly obese Americans clearly have a problem with overindulging, there is no evidence that the ban will have any effect on obesity.

These arguments over soda regulation have a more serious echo in the looming battle over America's gun laws. Since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gun control advocates have been chomping at the bit for new regulations. On the same day as 26 people were killed in Newtown, a deranged knife-weilding man in China raided an elementary school, injuring 24 people but killing none.2 This gives Gun Control advocates a perfect counterexample: guns make deranged attackers far more deadly.

Clearly, Americans have a problem with guns as well as with obesity. As former president Clinton said last week, "I grew up in this hunting culture, but this is nuts. Why does anybody need a 30 round clip for a gun? Why does anybody need one of those things that carries 100 bullets?”

To many gun rights advocates, the answer to Clinton's question is simple. Americans need powerful guns as a deterrent to repressive government. Just as the American revolutionaries used their firearms to fight British soldiers at Lexington and Concord, future American revolutionaries may need to do the same. Gun control advocates scoff at this argument. Many are inherently trustful of government and find it inconceivable that it could take a tyrannical turn justifying armed rebellion.

But for right-leaning Americans, this is a deeply held belief that drives the boundless energy they spend fighting gun control. And while the belief was certainly true in revolutionary times, and still true a generation ago, those days are now gone.

As proven by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, firearms are no longer a strategic threat to American forces. Advances in body armor and medicine have greatly limited the ability of firearms to kill soldiers, leading guerrilla fighters to focus their efforts on improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Consider that in the entire Iraq war, only 670 Americans were killed by guns, compared with 2195 by IEDs. Similarly in Afghanistan as of last May, only 387 Americans were killed by guns, compared with 851 by IEDs.3

Yes, guns are still deadly. But today, semi-automatic rifles are best for quickly slaughtering civilians. Unfortunately for insurgents, firearms are no longer very effective at fighting well-equipped soldiers.

This new development will make no difference to America's gun lovers, whose devotion has become completely irrational. While many people have guns for reasonable purposes like hunting and self-defense, gun nuts often amass a large and powerful arsenal for use at firing ranges. This is all in good fun, until the arsenal falls in the hands of a crazy person. And that's exactly what happened in Newtown. Instead of regulation, the most effective way to reduce mass shootings would be to convince these people that guns just aren't that cool.

Fortunately, mass shootings are relatively rare. The vast majority of gun collectors are peaceful, and the vast majority of soda drinkers are not obese diabetics. With both firearms and soda, it is highly doubtful that government regulations will have any helpful impact.

Even if the Obama administration succeeds in pushing though an assault weapons ban, it will do nothing to stop people purchasing or trading firearms on the black market, and do nothing to deal with the weapons already out there. By one estimate, there are already four million semi-automatic weapons in private ownership.4 What's worse, new gun laws can actually be counterproductive because they prompt the gun nuts to go on a shopping spree before they take effect. This happened before Clinton's 1994 assault weapons ban, and it's happening again now. Last month, applications for background checks surged 59 percent.5

Yes, Americans should oppose useless regulations on both soda and guns. But the energy they spend on opposition should be proportional to the stakes. Few politicians with libertarian sympathies were willing to stick their necks out to fight Bloomberg's big soda ban, because the stakes just weren't that high. Restrictions on soda sizes are annoying and useless, but are hardly a major affront to liberty.

The same can now be said for laws against semi-automatic weapons. Now that body armor has rendered them largely ineffective against soldiers, they are almost as much of a useless cultural oddity as the Big Gulp. Since far more important issues at stake, Republicans would be wise to not waste energy fighting for either one.

Related Web Columns:

Unimaginable Consequences
America's Simple Choice for Gun Control
, August 10, 1999


1. US News, New York City Approves Ban on Large Sodas, September 13, 2012

2. Voice of America, China, US School Attacks Highlight Difference in Gun Control, December 18, 2012 /content/china-us-school-attacks-highlight-difference-in-gun-control/1567029.html

3. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center, Global War on Terrorism By Reason, May 7, 2012

4. Slate, How Many Assault Weapons Are There in America? How Much Would It Cost the Government To Buy Them Back? December 20, 2012

5. New York Times, Sales of Guns Soar in U.S. as Nation Weighs Tougher Limits, January 11, 2013