The Connecticut state legislature is about to consider changing the law to make the information and addresses of 170,000 Connecticut handgun owners public. Aside from potentially being unconstitutional on the grounds that such a law would violate (somewhat ironically) the right to privacy first enumerated by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, this proposal would, if passed, prove a boon for criminals, a disaster for unarmed Connecticuters, and would eventually lead to the proliferation of handgun ownership throughout the state.
That was not a typo: I did, in fact, write that the law would most harm people who do not own handguns. Of course, the gun-rights crowd is emphasizing the harm the proposal would do to gun owners’ privacy. And they argue that it would put handgun owners in more danger. It’s certainly true that the law would invade the privacy of Connecticut residents who own guns. But it wouldn’t put them in harm’s way. It would actually maximize the utility of owning a firearm — to the detriment of people who don’t own guns.
Think about it. What idiot is going to choose to rob a home where he knows the owner is packing heat? Criminals tend to be stupid, but not that stupid. On the contrary, owning a registered handgun would dramatically decrease the likelihood of your home being targeted, all things being equal.
Here’s what would happen: Someone, probably some ridiculous newspaper that does not think the consequences through, will FOIA the gun ownership records and publish them online in an easily searchable database. Would-be robbers would then visit this website and figure out which houses do not have residents who own registered handguns. Those will be their targets. In other words, this law would screw the very people it is aimed at protecting: People who do not own handguns.
Civilians will quickly catch on to this logic. It turns out that if you are a civilian and you are worried, you probably are going to want to be on that gun owner list, if only because you do not want to be among the crowd most likely to be targeted. At this point, the proposal’s most perverse consequence of all becomes clear: If this bill becomes law, Connecticut would likely see first-time handgun permit requests and handgun purchases skyrocket as people who never had any reason to desire a gun flock to stores so that criminals will be more likely to leave them alone. And because the proposal exempts rifles, people who already own guns for sporting purposeswill also probably head to the store and pick up a handgun that they neither wanted nor needed.
This proposal, which appears to have received almost no critical thought prior to its introduction, is a perfect example of why legislators need to think long and hard about how they seek to regulate firearms. If they do not, ill-conceived proposals are apt to do exactly the opposite of what they were originally designed for. For historical evidence, look no further than the Assault Weapons Ban of 1990. The ban eliminated high-capacity magazines… but only for a limited time. Furthermore, the law grandfathered in all pre-ban magazines and failed to ban their importation in certain circumstances. Thus the number of high-capacity magazines actually increased while the ban was in place.
Additionally, the ban limited supply and, in the wake of the ban, demand skyrocketed. Gun companies like Glock cleverly arranged to have many of the police departments that use Glock trade their old weapons (with their pre-ban magazines) in for new weapons. Glock then resold the old guns and, more importantly, the pre-ban magazines at a considerably higher price, creating a windfall for the company. And then, of course, when the assault weapons ban expired, Glock resumed production.
If legislators are going to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, they would do well to develop a more pronounced appreciation of the law of unintended consequences.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for FrumForum. Follow Jeb on Twitter: @JGolinkin.