Ammo Control, Like Meth Control, Will Fail Spectacularly
Recently, the New York Times published an article about California’s latest attempt to crack down on gun owners: ammo control. Certain California cities have long required dealers keep records of ammunition, and next year that will be a statewide rule, along with background checks for ammunition purchases. California is also pushing for microstamping, a requirement that firearms create tiny imprints on fired cases which would identify from which gun they were fired.
With a near-total focus on the anti-gun side of the debate, the Times reporter made the effort out to be a no-brainer. After all, isn’t it working already? California law enforcement has arrested felons and seized guns based on records from ammunition purchases!
Politicians have pushed for massive taxes on ammunition – and comedians have, too.
Like all well-intentioned yet ill-thought-out laws, these attempts ignore one very important factor: demand. If people want ammunition, other people are going to find ways to sell it to them.
If you don’t think demand needs to be addressed when passing a law restricting access to something with the goal of saving lives, look at federal and state governments to address methamphetamines in the mid-00s. Those restrictions on cold medicine purchases are strikingly similar to some of California’s restrictions or proposed restrictions on ammunition purchases: sales logs and ID verification, for example.
The meth laws didn’t work. Even the Washington Post acknowledges the failure of these meth laws. When attempts were made to limit the ability of Americans to make meth, the laws worked, sort of: the number of meth labs in the US plummeted for a while. The supply of meth? It increased, because it became profitable for Mexican drug cartels to make and sell methamphetamines in massive quantities. It also led to an increase in “shake and bake” meth labs, or people trying to make their own meth literally in their own hands. This led to significant increases in burn victims – in some burn units, as many as 30 percent of their patients are amateur meth producers.
Maybe all of this would be worth it if, in the end, we saved lives. Unfortunately, drug overdose deaths have been skyrocketing in the United States since the passage of this legislation, including deaths from methamphetamines.
Ammunition has been manufactured, in various forms, for hundreds of years. These are not sophisticated items. There are few, if any, barriers to entry in the ammunition production market. Oh, sure, if you wanted to compete with big ammunition makers you’d need to make a quality product in a big factory, but if your buyers just need stuff that goes bang and makes a bullet come out the end of the barrel, anyone in America can produce that at home. If you make it hard enough to produce ammunition in America, I’m sure the Mexican cartels would love to diversify their investments yet again.
It hasn’t just been drugs, either – look at the miserable failure of Prohibition.
History has shown us that these same sorts of attempts to limit access to easily produced items almost always backfire, and when they do, more people end up dying. We shouldn’t look to California, our nation’s leader in well-meaning but horribly crafted laws, for bad ideas that will lead to more deaths.
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