Gun control’s unintended consequences

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By Rob Witwer

As a student living on Chicago’s south side in the early 1990s, I understood that the beginning of spring brought not only warmer days, but the sound of gunfire at night. Sometimes it would be the single shot from a handgun, and occasionally it would be the “pop-pop-pop” of a semi-automatic weapon. 


 Whatever guns I heard, they were probably illegal. That’s because Chicago had the strictest gun laws in the country, and effectively banned handguns and automatic weapons. However, it seemed to me that guns were plentiful and readily available to everyone — except, of course, those who followed the law.

Chicago’s strict gun laws don’t seem to have much of an impact on crime statistics, or the availability of guns. In fact, the opposite has been the case. A January 2013 New York Times article reported that “(Police)seized 7,400 guns here in crimes or unpermitted uses last year (compared with 3,285 in New York City), and have confiscated 574 guns just since Jan. 1 — 124 of them last week alone.”  According to the Times, there are more guns on the streets of Chicago than in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles (which also, I might add, have looser gun laws).

Without opining on the merits of any of the numerous gun bills moving through the legislature, one is moved to ask why this debate seems so impervious to data like that provided by cities like Chicago or Washington, D.C.? Advocates of strict legislation seem to assume — to take on faith, even — that gun control laws will prevent gun crimes. Really? Is there a single example of that happening anywhere in the United States? If so, where?

The reason this is important is because every time government imposes limitations on freedom, it shifts the balance of power away from citizens and toward the state. Going back to our nation’s founding, freedom has been the driving principle behind our shared values. It should not be taken away lightly, or in the absence of compelling evidence that it’s absolutely necessary.

As with all laws, unintended consequences will surely follow. In Chicago, gun control resulted in a city with high crime, widespread gun possession and — importantly — a certainty in the minds of criminals that their would-be victims were very likely to be unarmed.

Here in Colorado, even legislation that hasn’t yet passed is leading to unintended consequences. In anticipation of a law banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, Colorado residents are buying them up so they will be grandfathered in before the new law takes effect. So with no evidence that the magazine ban will reduce gun violence, the proposed bill has had one actual, concrete effect: to flood the state with high-capacity ammunition magazines that wouldn’t otherwise be here. 

 Reducing freedom often produces unexpected outcomes. Ironically, with gun control laws, one of those outcomes might be to make us less safe than we were before.


Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”