Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Fence Around Murder

I've often wondered: we know that gun control doesn't work. It's been tried over and over, and it doesn't affect violent crime rates. Often after its failure the same folks try doing the same thing harder, and it _still_ doesn't work. Why, then--if we take the "they're just idiots" handwave off the table--do a small but meaningful number of people devote their lives to pushing it? It's not like they don't have access to the same statistics we do. Why do they spend so much mental energy finding ways to dismiss the facts?

We talk sometimes in the gun-rights community about gun control being a religion; it has its central tenets (guns cause crime by making crime easier; guns cause suicide by making suicide easier; your gun is more likely to be used against you than to defend you...) from which all conclusions are drawn, and those tenets are impervious to evidence. The US and Britain have the same slow decline in violent crime, despite polar opposite trends on gun restrictions? Obviously the US would be doing even _better_ without all the guns. Japan and Switzerland both have atrocious suicide rates, even though one has almost no privately-owned guns (legal or no) while the other issues assault rifles to most male citizens? Obviously Japan would have an even _higher_ suicide rate if her subjects were permitted arms. We could put a .380 Kel-Tec in the hands of every man, woman, and child in the US, see violent crime drop to almost nothing, and the true believers would still crow "the four people murdered last year were murdered with guns! We need a common-sense ban on these devices designed to kill!"

Obviously, every community of any size has its true believers and its revealed dogma ("Glocks melt in a hot car!" "1911s need a thousand bucks of gunsmithing to work at all!" "HK slides are milled from the thighbones of seraphim!"); the difference is in how central the dogma is to the movement, and how much meat there is elsewhere in the movement's position. In the case of gun controllers, it's pretty much all dogma and no meat.

Which is why a discussion at Sebastian's about Brady's brief in the McDonald case got me to thinking. And the connection between gun control and religion finally clicked.

In Judaism, there's the concept of gezeirah:

"A gezeirah is a law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. We commonly speak of a gezeirah as a "fence" around the Torah. For example, the Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat, but a gezeirah commands us not to even handle an implement that you would use to perform prohibited work (such as a pencil, money, a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work. The word is derived from the root Gimel-Zayin-Reish, meaning to cut off or to separate."

This is also, if I understand correctly, the reason for separate plates in an orthodox household: you're forbidden to mix meat and dairy, so an additional rule--the requirement to keep one whole set of kitchen implements and plates for preparing and serving meat and another set for preparing dairy foods--is instituted to take you one step further away from that infraction.

This is exactly the motivation of gun controllers: murder is illegal, but that isn't enough! It's intolerable to them that a person could go through life a mere finger-twitch away from committing that crime. They see the capacity and proximity to the sin as a sin in itself. The ability to sin becomes the sin.

This may be all well and good for religious folks. If you want to devote yourself to a life of such rigorous adherence to the law that you won't flip on a light switch on Saturday lest you forget that you're technically kindling a flame which is similar to doing work, mazel tov for you. And if you draw satisfaction from so distancing yourself from murder that you banish all weapons from your home, again, you can live your life as you please.

But do the rest of us really want to have the force of law constantly placing more and more draconian restrictions on things less and less directly related to bona fide crimes?


  1. Great Post! I knew about such laws, but didn't know about their ties to faith. Very good connection, espeshally given that all but a few gun control laws on the books are 100% redundant.

  2. Thanks.

    I get the motivation--"it's all well and good to punish a murderer after the fact, but that won't bring the victim back"--but honestly, once you start down the prior restraint road, there's no end in sight. Before you know it, you ain't living in a free country any more, and you _still_ risk being murdered.

  3. Nice job.

    The prior restraint issue is a hot button for me. The very name "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence" says all I need to know to oppose their agenda.

  4. It's unfortunate that "prior restraint" doesn't seem to be a well-grokked concept outside of libertarian circles. It seems to be a fundamental difference between most reasonable and overreaching legal policies.

    There has to be a short, punchy rebuttal to the old "punishing the crime doesn't bring the victim back" argument, but I dunno what it is. I can explain how messed up that sentiment is in three paragraphs, but they won't go to the gut as well.

  5. The thing to remember is that gun control is never about crime or guns; it is about control. Operation Exile in Richmond VA showed how violence could be reduced. The problem is that it doesn't involve more restrictive legislation or disarming law-abiding citizens.