Thursday, January 12, 2012

Temperance and Gun Control

Shall Not Be Questioned points out that many of the gun control activists (like Mayor Bloomberg) are also temperance activists.  As I point out in the comments, it is, unfortunately, much easier to pass laws than to change public morality one person at a time.

To be fair, intelligently written laws and public campaigns can influence individual morality. One of the interesting aspects to the temperance movement was that when it started, it did make real changes in how people regarded alcohol. Rorabaugh’s The Alcoholic Republic points out that the dramatic decline in absolute alcohol consumption per capita between 1830 and 1840 was because of widespread efforts to make people aware of the dangers of intoxication. (Temperance originally referred not to total abstinence, but drinking only in moderation.)
There is a parallel between this and the dramatic changes in proper gun etiquette that come out of NRA’s safety programs from the 1940s onward. Look at the pictures of pistol teams from the 1930s, with all the pistols pointing at the camera!
Once the low-hanging fruit has been grabbed for any public persuasion campaign, the temptation is strong to start passing laws as a method of coercing those who are not persuaded into improving their behavior. To the extent that coercive laws do not make other problems more severe, they might be justifiable if they actually substantially improve public health and safety.
The difficulty is that you have to recognize when you have reached the point where you have gone as far as you can go without laws that produce as many problems as they solve. The more fanatical someone is about a problem, the less likely they are to recognize that their solutions are worse than the problem.

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