Sunday, November 21, 2010

Getting Rid Of Laws

Every time a discussion of the correct scope of the laws comes up with social conservatives this little ditty or something like it is trotted out to justify the death penalty for picking your nose or for growing the wrong kind of plants.

So do you advocate getting rid of laws that deal harsh consequences for such acts as murder, robbery, and physical assault?
Well thanks for putting the fish in my barrel. I have my sawed off shotgun ready so how about a few blasts?

1. Laws against that kind of behavior are universal. Something on the order of 99% to 99.99% of humans would agree. Murderers don't want to be murdered. Robbers don't like being robbed. Thieves don't like getting their stuff stolen.

2. It only takes 5% of the population to disagree with a law to make enforcement very hard. Up around 10% to 20% it becomes impossible.

3. Criminal transactions are very hard to police - there is a willing seller and a willing buyer and if they are clandestine enough no one to complain.

4. Laws that create black markets corrupt police. Every where some one is getting paid to look the other way to let the deal go down. With crimes of malice such looking the other way is more difficult. People get emotionally involved when a relative is wronged. Or they are wronged.

5. By the time the USSR collapsed it was one big black market. Why even push in that direction? Do you know what the stability margin for civilization is? You want to test it?

6. Are you so thin brained that you are unable to conceive of solving social problems without government guns? Liberals have a similar problem.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Neil said...

A curious juxtaposition:

Most recreational pharmaceuticals are forbidden by law, but easily available in practice. Not even expensive.

Fully-automatic weapons are nearly impossible to obtain, and terribly expensive. They're really not even commonly available to inner-city gangs, who certainly wouldn't turn one down if they could get hold of it. When cops display weaponry seized in a bust, it's almost always utterly mundane, even obsolete, stuff.

Why is prohibition so ineffective in the case of drugs, but so effective in the case of fully-automatic firearms?

M. Simon said...

That is the first really good question I have had on the prohibition subject in years. Maybe decades.

I was reading that there are actually 50,000 machine guns out there:

Washtub #1: There are 50,000 unregistered submachine guns on the streets which the ATF refuses to regulate.

So maybe there is enough supply to meet demand.

Machine guns (other than squad weapons) are hard to control. Bad idea for a defensive weapon in urban areas. Law suits.

The need for weaponry suitable to most tasks in the US are currently being met. We have "carry" of some sort in 48 States.

Semi-automatic is more conservative of ammunition.

Even gangs don't want to play pray and spray. It attracts unwanted attention.

So the bottom line: the demand is small and being met. i.e. harsh enforcement works if the numbers willing to risk it are small.

Neil said...

Never trust content from the Brady Campaign.

I followed the link, and I think they are trying to make hay by egregiously re-defining some technical terms. Before 1982, as I understand it, it was legal to manufacture pistols that fired from an "open bolt". These firearms, as well as being cheaper to manufacture, are easier to convert to full-auto than firearms which fire from "closed bolt". The downside is that they can be less safe if not well-maintained, and tend to be less accurate.

The Brady Campaign seems to be claiming that ALL of these firearms are "machine guns", even if they are actually semi-automatic. It's a bald-faced lie, because the legal definition of "machine gun" is very well-defined. Anyway, nobody who really uses weapons use those little open-bolt pistols anymore largely because, well, they suck.

One can hardly say that the demand for full-auto weapons is satisfied. If they were as easy to get as marijuana, and the penalties for use were similar, I know plenty of people that would have a closet full of machine guns, just for the heck of it. As it is, it's really quite rare for anyone to own one, legally or not.

"Machine-gun" components are no more difficult to manufacture than methamphetamines, and no more difficult to transport than weed. But even conversion kits for common weapons like the AK47 and AR15 families are really pretty rare.

The reason, I think, is that they don't make it easy or cheap to own a legal one, and the penalties for breaking firearms laws are incredibly severe. It's not even required to actually break the law to get sent away for years--you just need to make a technical slip-up that gets you close to breaking the law, and they'll send you up the river for quite some time, along with financial penalties, and you'll find few people willing to defend you.

Clearly the difference has something to do with the will to enforce the law. But why? Is it because drugs pose a perceived threat to the individual, while full-auto weapons pose a perceived threat to the government? That seems weak to me--there are plenty of people who believe that recreational drugs pose a real threat to society (whether or not one agrees with them). But what else is there?

I'm stumped.

Stephen said...

A fully automatic weapon creates a loud, obvious report when fired. On the one occasion I have accompanied a Class 3 licensee to participate in a bit of live fire, we had the county sheriff pulling up in the driveway to investigate in under 30 minutes - in rural Mississippi.

Semi-auto weapons (which are readily available at modest prices) are a very good substitute for full-auto in nearly all small-scale operations. Full-auto weapons are large, unwieldy, and difficult to hide, meaning that they are not worth the trouble unless you're carrying out an invasion. Legal drugs, on the other hand, are (hedonically) usually a very poor substitute for illegal ones. Personal-use quantities are easily hidden during transport, large quantities are easily hidden in the home, and use itself is as clandestine as the user wishes to make it.

If the legal product offers plausible deniability and 95% of the effectiveness of the illegal product, while facing a ban that is almost certain to catch you the first time you use the object, you will likely not have much illegal activity. If the product is unique, easily concealed, and has almost no chance of its use being detected, then it will be prevalent. And, of course, there's the size of the market. Illegal full-auto weapons are useless to the average person, because they have no interest in being able to kill large numbers of people rapidly. Illegal drugs, at some level, appeal to everybody who enjoys altering their consciousness - which is to say, at least 60-70% of Americans. (Those are the Gallup numbers for those who say they drink alcohol on occasion, although I think that's far too low. I'd say that perhaps 10-15% of our population never drinks, and that's in the Bible Belt.)

M. Simon said...


That was not a Brady site. (Sipsey....) it was highly recommended by knowledgeable gun sites. So maybe there are "automatics out there". I dunno. Maybe you are correct. Got a link?

Neil said...


I misunderstood, that was some kind of open letter (possibly sarcastic) to somebody at the Brady campaign. I don't know what the letter is supposed to convey. Here's the core of what they were talking about:

Q: What is the proper treatment of one of those firearms under that ruling if it's . . . I mean, I guess ATF considers it to be a machine gun but it's freely transferable without even a Form 4 if I understand it; is that right?
A: If it was manufactured before that date as an open bolt pistol, then ATF said we're not going to apply the machine gun classification to it.

I'll try to dig up a link tomorrow, but the questioner is incorrectly saying that all open-bolt pistols are defined as "machine guns". The person being depositioned alludes to this when he says "Well, it is correct that they are no longer allowed to be manufactured" but does not confirm that they are in fact machine guns. The ATF has a mandate to prevent the manufacture or sale of new open-bolt firearms because they are relatively easy to convert, but they have never tried to define all the pre-82 open-bolt pistols as being a Form 4 item.

At any rate, I guarantee you that there aren't 50,000 legal non-NFA full-auto weapons out there on the market. If there were, they'd be selling for $10K each on Gunbroker.

Neil said...


You have a good point, that full-auto weapons tend to advertise themselves. I do have a quibble, though. They are not "large, unwieldy, and difficult to hide". If it were common to circumvent the rules, most would probably be conversions of common semi-auto rifles. It would be difficult to tell the difference. That's the kind of thing that I am surprised doesn't happen more often.

M. Simon said...


Thanks!. I only read 3 or 4 posts on the issue (all repeating more or less the Sipsey points - all well known gun blogs) and I thought I had a handle on the issue. Evidently not.

I look forward to your report.

Neil said...


On second thought, I disagree that full-auto weapons necessarily advertise themselves excessively. It sounds like you were firing an actual purpose-made machine gun, maybe? A full-auto assault rifle doesn't really make all that much more noise than a semi-auto. Not so you'd have the sheriff come running, anyway. And most people would probably be firing .22LR conversion kits, anyway. Not so loud.

Stephen said...


No, they're not louder than a semi-auto, but the rhythm of full auto is quite different from semi. It was the rhythm that got the sheriff called out to visit.

I'm not a gun nerd, and so in order to avoid mis-naming the weapons I fired over ten years ago, suffice it to say that one fired 9mm and the other fired NATO 5.56; i.e., they were not really machine guns but merely a fully automatic rifle and SMG.

By "hard to conceal", I meant on your person - a laptop case could easily hold a kilogram of cocaine as well as its regular contents. A pistol is similarly easy to hide, but even a small SMG is a fairly large piece of equipment. I was under the impression that gangs don't use a lot of long guns, and I have always assumed that this was because handguns are so much more easily carried, concealed, discarded, and wielded, and that at the distances usually involved they were sufficiently accurate.

Neil said...

I was not able to find a link explaining why a semi-auto open-bolt pistol is not a Class 3 weapon.

However, wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of the National Firearms Act, which is the relevant law here.

The section on "Categories of firearms regulated" has a pretty good explanation of exactly which finished parts constitute a Class 3/NFA weapon. The section "The market for NFA items" backs up my claims for the kind of price a hypothetical unregulated full-auto weapon would fetch.

Also, the wiki article on the MAC-10 has a decent description on a specific case of the type of pistol your reference was talking about; an open-bolt semi-auto pistol with a full-auto counterpart.

The section "Calibers and variants" has a discussion of the changes required after the ban on open-bolt semi-auto weapons in 1982.

Finally, I'll just note that the all-out bans on new civilian full-auto firearms was arguably a result of the Drug War. The little 9mm submachine guns had become fairly popular with drug gangs. The requirement that all full-auto firearms be registered by serial number made it easier to enforce the all-out ban, as the government knew precisely what weapons were already out there.

Neil said...

OK, the more I think about it, the more I think Stephen is on to something.

It's the legal availability of a near-substitute, plus the harshness of the penalties that makes the difference. If you're a law-abiding citizen you can have semi-auto firearms, which are nearly as good as (or better than) full-auto for most civilian purposes. You can have most of what you want, legally and relatively cheaply.

If you get caught with unregistered full-auto, there are very harsh penalties. And to top it off, you lose the privilege of legally owning any firearm at all. By going the extra step, you lose all of what you were after in the first place.

I think this lesson is very applicable to drugs. Lets say for argument's sake, since I am not personally familiar with the subject matter, that marijuana and the harder drugs really are two different things. That marijuana is relatively safe and the harder drugs are not. Extrapolating on the American experience with firearms, it is hypothetically possible to construct a drug prohibition regime that gives those who benefit from recreational drug use most of what they want from the availability of marijuana and maybe other "safe" drugs while having strict prohibitions on "harder" drugs, including revocation of the right to purchase the "safe" drugs.

I have no idea how to engineer a political situation in which such a regime could be enacted, or whether it would be useful if it were possible. I'm just fascinated at the theoretical possibility.

M. Simon said...


Marijuana can reduce the need for opiates or eliminate the need.

But the people taking the drugs for a condition that has no known cure. The most heavily traumatized need the opiates.


PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

Besides opiate use in America hasn't changed in over 100 years (since before opiate prohibition). About 2% of the population are users to various degrees.

Evidently law has no effect except to punish those in extreme pain.