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Cell phone study explains why gun control laws fail

Guns or cell phones: Restrictive laws don't seem to have the desired results.
Guns or cell phones: Restrictive laws don't seem to have the desired results.
Dave Workman

Reports over the weekend, including this one on Vox about the failure of laws prohibiting hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving carry a lesson on why restrictive gun laws don’t work to reduce crime.

The swirl is about an article in the August issue of Transportation Research, in which the results of a study on the effect of cell phone restrictions in California “found no evidence the California ban reduced the frequency of traffic accidents.” It is essentially the same result obtained by an earlier study, reported in January 2010 by CNN, which revealed, “State laws that ban drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones seem to have no effect on crash rates.”

Look at Washington, where there is a big push to pass Initiative 594, the big money 18-page gun control measure that ostensibly is aimed at so-called “universal background checks.” This state adopted a ban on texting and hand-held cell phone use, but drive along I-5 or I-90 any day of the week, any hour of the day, and chances are excellent you will pass at least a few, if not several, people ignoring the law.

Will people ignore the background check requirement, figuring they won't get caught or prosecuted? People flagrantly ignore the cell phone law, evidently for the same reason.

Whatever else these people are, they’re lawbreakers. Now, translate this to the proposed initiative’s language regulating transfers of firearms. If you fall outside the narrowly-defined exemptions – say you’re lending a shotgun to a friend for a weekend hunting trip, or a handgun to your wife’s sister-in-law for home protection because her husband is on deployment or at a distant job site – a background check would be required. To get that gun back requires another background check, say initiative critics. Cost per check: Between $30 and $60.

I-594 critics are also suggesting that the Seattle Times is paying a lot more attention to gun-related crime stories. The weekend’s lengthy piece on accused Seattle Pacific University shooter Aaron Ybarra brought some interesting reader reactions, including this one from “Iron Lung” which asks, “What’s the deal with the Times and guns? It’s like reading articles from the onion (sic) on here.”

Others contend that the article focuses more on the failure of the mental health and judicial systems in Ybarra’s case. Had the suspect been institutionalized, or under strict supervision, is it possible the shooting might not have occurred?

Some surveys suggest that more than 80 percent of Americans own cell phones. If they are so willing to break the law regarding phone use behind the wheel, what makes anyone think that people will comply with the background check law, or any gun law for that matter? Criminals don’t obey the gun laws now, and there is no evidence anybody obeys the cell phone law, so the passage of another law seems superfluous.

Perhaps the real problem was defined by Daniel Kaffine, associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, when he observed, “Simply banning cell phone use seems to be unlikely to get any meaningful reduction in traffic accidents. It doesn’t mean it’s not a dangerous thing to do; it just means when you put the ban into the real world, the actual effectiveness of the ban looks to be much less than its hypothetical effectiveness.”

Apply that to violent crime or cell phone use while driving, the same result seems to materialize. Good intentions, or even bad ones, do not necessarily translate to desired results. In the end, what has been accomplished?

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