In the 1980s, in the midst of the Cold War, there many Americans who sought to avert potential nuclear war by disarming. President Ronald Reagan even agreed with this position, albeit with a huge caveat.
At the time, Reagan was busy building up the US military with an eye toward negotiating arms reductions from a position of strength. While he had some help from Democrats in Congress, the bigger part of the American left (and world left) opposed the build up. There was even a nuclear freeze movement.
The idea was that Reagan was making the world a more dangerous place because he proliferated more arms, thereby making a nuclear exchange with the Soviets more likely. Their solution was for the United States to lay down its arms. Eventually, Soviet leaders succumbed to Reagan’s terms on arms reductions and their union dissolved shortly thereafter.
In the mid-1990s, Congress enacted an assault weapons ban. The idea there was benevolent, too: by reducing the types of numbers of weapons legally allowed in the market, we would thereby reduce gun violence. Data indicates that the ban was ineffective, with the Columbine shooting providing exhibit A.
Last year, the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut sparked renewed calls for similar measures: assault weapons bans, limits on magazine capacity, universal background checks, etc. Today, President Obama issued 23 executive orders and called on Congress to act on such proposals.
While well-intentioned, the commonalities between the scenarios are that they essentially leave “the good guys” somewhat undefended without placing any real new burden on “the bad guys.”
What if the Soviets had opted to launch a first strike attack against the United States? American defenses would have been greatly diminished by voluntary arms reductions. What if a bad actor attacks a school with his own semi-automatic rifle? What if the bad actor has a bag full of 30-round magazines? Under current proposals, if anyone had a weapon, he or she would be able to return fire with only 10 rounds (7 in New York). Even an armed cop is unlikely to match the firepower unleashed at Sandy Hook. And the bad actors are, well, bad—they, by definition, do not follow laws. We could ban crime (an admittedly silly formulation), but it wouldn’t end.
Moreover, these vulnerabilities invite bad actors to act and diminish the safety of those they are designed to protect. After all, the United States and the Soviet Union avoided war in large part because there would have been a high and certain price to pay. Domestically, most mass shootings have taken place in jurisdictions with stringent gun control laws. In the Aurora shooting, the shooter chose the only area movie theater that prohibited firearms. Why? There was less perceived risk.
Thus, the historical record shows that reducing the defenses of the vulnerable only makes them more so.