“But criminals don’t obey laws!”

This is one of those pro-gun talking points that always gets projectile-vomited into the national discourse whenever we want to talk about gun control. We get comparisons with things like drug prohibition, which very obviously doesn’t work. The argument is basically that restrictions on guns won’t do anything to stop “criminals” from getting their hands on firearms, so it would be unfair to deprive non-criminals from legally owning guns. Preferably without background checks. Or any restrictions on things like magazine capacity. The assumption is that ordinary law-abiding citizens keep themselves—and others!—safe by owning guns. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so don’t you dare take away my assault rifle.

This “but criminals gonna crime!” fear-mongering presupposes a hard boundary between people who are willing to disobey laws, and people who deserve the right not to be shot. There is no monolithic group called criminals, who will disobey literally any law that ever stands in their way, and nothing can stop them. These people don’t exist. Some people disregard certains types of laws, and other people disregard others. Maybe no law against any type of bad behavior is 100% effective in stopping said behavior, but when laws are well-enforced, they do make a difference.

One of the comparisons made to gun restrictions is drug laws. People use drugs anyway, and the War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster. Yes? Fine. Another comparison is to violent crimes like rape. It’s illegal, and yet rape still keeps happening. So there’s no point in trying to get rid of guns, when innocent people need to protect themselves.

The disaster that is the War on Drugs should remind us of the futility of putting “criminals” on one side of a hard boundary and “lives worth protecting” on the other. Lots of perfectly decent people use illegal drugs. They’re willing to disobey certain laws, but they’re not hurting anyone, and the prevalence of illegal drug use has a lot to do with the fact that drugs feel good to use, and many of those drugs are extremely addictive. Okay? People break drug laws because getting high feels good, and then they keep on breaking those laws because addiction is more powerful than laws. Whereas, people buy guns because they want to be able to maim and kill people. Sure, we can talk about “self-defense,” but even when someone actually manages to use a gun to stop a bad guy (which doesn’t happen nearly as often as suicides, accidental shootings, and spur-of-the-moment homicides stemming from shitty impulse control), the fact remains that the “self-defense” value of guns derives from maiming and killing people. You’re not putting sedative doses in those firearms. Bullets don’t make people take a nap. Point being, the motivation to possess and carry guns with ammo is different from the motivation to use narcotics, and different impulses respond to different pressures. There’s probably no force on Earth that can get people to give up tobacco altogether, but cigarette taxes, for example, do cut down on use just a bit.

And then they talk about rape. The assumption being that since rapists keep on raping even when it’s illegal, killers are gonna keep on buying guns no matter what we do to get in their way, so we’d best not make it difficult for the nice law-abiding people to keep firearms, too. (Bonus points if they bring up the image of a woman using a gun to defend herself from an attempting rapist. Which is inapplicable to the overwhelming majority of actual rapes.) And by that logic, why do we even have laws against rape, if they don’t help?

But actually: those laws DO help. Without those laws, and without SOME measure of law enforcement, rape would happen more often. It still happens as much as it does largely because enforcement is horribly inconsistent. For example, the people who experience the highest rates of rape victimization are basically the same people who are least likely to go to the police and the least likely to be taken seriously if they do.   When would-be rapists think they just might get arrested, and maybe even convicted, they tend not to do it. Laws prohibiting rape are good, but our law enforcement needs to be better. And I don’t deny that laws prohibiting gun ownership wouldn’t do us much good with half-assed enforcement. When I say I want something to be illegal, “consistent and effective law enforcement” is implied.

(Brief digression: We also need our police to be more accountable, and that’s a cultural issue as well as a legal one. Of course there’s also a case to be made that modern policing is part of the problem, and we really need a better system for keeping people safe, and I’m open to that discussion. I also think that a non-police-state system of protecting citizens from violence would be more effective without so damn many firearms in the general population.)

Point being: criminals don’t just do whatever the fuck they want regardless of laws and the justice system. Even the most vicious law-breakers respond to certain pressures. We may never get guns entirely out of our civilian population, but we can make them a lot more difficult to obtain if we’re serious, and really? The pro-gun crowd wouldn’t get so pissed off at the idea of banning guns if they didn’t think it would be effective to some degree. Making guns more difficult to obtain will go a long way in protecting the right not to get shot. I’ll take lower body counts and longer life-expectancy over this buzz-word concept of “freedom.”