The solution to gun control is deterrence, not prevention

5489298-revolver-that-is-starkly-lit-on-a-black-backgroundOn, we spend a lot of time discussing the demonstrable shortcomings of common legislation to control access to guns.  Evidence soundly rejects the majority of gun control proposals as nothing but ineffectual goals that will not, and cannot, prevent the next mass shooting.  Now, let’s discuss the solution to gun control using a solution that actually works.

Governments cannot prevent crime.  Many state governments, in fact, admit this.  Governments can, however, deter crime.  The difference between deterrence and prevention is fundamental and important.  The attempt to remove guns from a would-be criminal’s hands is an attempt to prevent the crime from happening.  It’s a direct and tangible effort to stop violence before it starts.

Unfortunately, prevention does not work, and history has clearly shown that tangible crime prevention methods are notoriously unsuccessful.  One look at our nation’s War on Drugs program paints a grim but realistic picture of the harm that prevention truly causes society.  When government attempts to take away something tangible that it deems harmful to society, that activity is naturally driven underground, making it near impossible to track.  Visit almost any high school in the country and you will surely find a good percentage of students who can obtain illegal narcotics.  The underground drug trade is quite sophisticated.

In this case, prevention has achieved two things: 1: all drug trafficking is performed underground where government authorities rarely infiltrate, relying on stupid criminals and dumb luck to capture drugs, and 2: failed at ridding our society of illegal narcotics, as evidenced by the easy access to these substances by virtually anyone in our country.

And so, if prevention is the government’s solution to gun crime, then we can expect largely the same result.  Criminals will not give up their guns – that’s why they are criminals.  The gun trade will be taken underground where the government cannot track and monitor, making the prosecution and investigation of gun related crimes that much harder.  Prevention simply does not work.

Deterrence is the answer to gun control.  Deterrence involves building an environment where it is simply too risky to commit a crime with a firearm.  Deterrence does not remove the gun from the hands of a criminal, but it makes the rest of his or her life – or at least a good portion of it – significantly more brutal.

Currently, if a criminal gets caught holding up a 7/11 convenience store with a gun, he might spend a couple years in jail, max (depending on prior arrests and warrants, of course).  Get a good enough lawyer, and that sentence might be reduced to several months.  In other words, in the grand scheme of someone’s life, it amounts to very little time behind bars and removed from society.  The risk, sometimes, is worth the reward.

To properly deter a criminal, sentencing for crimes involving guns needs significant reform.  If state governments begin establishing laws that set minimum sentences for all gun crimes, governments can then begin setting up an environment where the rewards no longer support the risk.  For example, if a state set a minimum 20-year prison sentence for ANY crime involving a gun, you immediately send a message that gun crimes are not tolerated.  Buy whatever gun you want, but if you commit a crime with it, you will be spending at least the next couple decades behind bars paying for it.

Deterrence can apply to any crime.  Get caught driving while under the influence of alcohol?  Spend 5 years in jail.  Get caught selling drugs to a minor?  Spend 15 years in jail.  In other words, build a society where crimes are punished, and punished heavily.  Let people live their lives the way they see fit, and be sure those who are dangers to freedom and liberty think twice about whether or not they want a long jail sentence for the crime of using a gun to steal a case of beer from a local convenience store.

Right now, for far too many people, the reward is worth the risk.