Why government can’t solve the mass shooting problem

Time and again, in normal life or extreme difficulties, we see how outside assistance can be unwelcome, or abused, or lead to all sorts of complications (the famous law of unintended consequences).  We’ve spoken of some of them in these pages before, most recently the result of local governments subsidizing homelessness.

We’re seeing it again now, in the reaction of politicians and community leaders to the mass shootings in Gilroy, CA;  El Paso, TX;  and Dayton, OH.  Almost without exception, they’re calling for more laws, rules and regulations to be passed.  The fact that we already have myriad laws, rules and regulations, and that the shooters broke dozens of existing laws without being deterred or stopped by them, is never mentioned.  That’s an inconvenient reality that they’d rather ignore.  What’s more, many of our fellow citizens adopt that approach, too.  They want their politicians to “do something” – even though everything they’ve already done has proved to be ineffective.

The simple truth is that the solution to mass shootings of this sort does not lie in government hands, or even in law enforcement hands.  Government and cops can’t be everywhere, all the time – but we are.  It’s up to us to be aware of our surroundings, and equipped to deal with any threat that may arise.  How many of us, after the shooting at a Walmart supermarket in El Paso, decided to get our concealed carry permit, and from now onward go armed, to defend ourselves and those with us when we do our grocery shopping?  If you didn’t, you’re effectively consenting to be a victim in such an environment – because there is something practical you can do about it, but you’ve chosen, by your inaction, not to do anything.  Don’t blame the government if you find yourself caught up in a similar situation.  They didn’t send the shooter.

That’s a hard, painful lesson to learn . . . but isn’t it the exact and literal truth?

When governments try to “help” by passing laws, they frequently miss the mark, because their “help” is, by definition, one-size-fits-all.  They can’t tailor it to a specific place, or population, or situation.  They operate on an overall scale that fits the whole country.  What might be worthwhile in a major urban center might not fit a small farming community, and vice versa.  What works in the inner city might fail in suburbia.  There are too many differences for a “one-size-fits-all” solution to be universally effective.  What’s more, some legislatively mandated solutions in one area – e.g. psychotropic drugs to treat perceived mental problems – can cause problems in another.  Did you know that almost every mass shooter in the past couple of decades had been legally prescribed, and was using, psychotropic medication?  It’s true.  Correlation, or causation?  I’m willing to bet on the latter.

That applies in other areas, too.  Jeffrey Tucker points out that “Sometimes Helping People Is the Worst Thing You Can Do“.

Economist James Buchanan coined the phrase “Samaritan’s dilemma.” It comes from the Biblical parable in which the generous merchant helped the man beaten and lying on the road. He pays the medical bills and gets him back on his feet. Good man.

But let’s imagine a part two. The word gets out. Next time the Samaritan travels the same road, there are three, four, and five people in need of money, medical attention, and a safe place to spend the night. He helps them. They multiply tenfold on the next trip. Pretty soon, the problem becomes obvious. In order to re-adjust incentives, the Samaritan has to say no. He has to withdraw the aid. To help, he needs to stop helping.

This is a very difficult decision. Aid cannot be without limit, and it cannot be expected else it becomes abuse of the giver and contrary to the interests of the recipient.

. . .

There is no hard-and-fast rule on how much help is too much help, no precise point at which you have gone too far and caused more of the very problem you are trying to fix.

Still, it is utterly foolish not to admit that the Samaritan’s dilemma is real. It is part of life as we know it, and it appears everywhere. It’s the great problem faced by anyone who seeks to do good.

There’s more at the link.

The Samaritan’s Dilemma applies to every government action, financial or otherwise.  Laws may help to resolve an issue . . . or they may make it worse.  (See psychotropic medications, mentioned above.)  If we expect government to give us the solution to all the problems of human nature, we’re doomed to disappointment.  Humans are individuals, and individuals differ.  Treat everyone as a broad mass of humanity, without individuality, and your program, your solution, your law, will soon break down.

Besides, if you give government that sort of power, you leave yourself open to a greater danger.  As the late President Ford pointed out, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have”.  I’m willing to bet that a legislated solution to mass shootings will end up by confiscating all legal firearms, without exception – because without guns, there can be no shootings, right?  The fact that only the law-abiding will hand in their guns, leaving millions out there in the hands of those who don’t abide by any laws anyway . . . well, that’s just an inconvenient reality that we’ll have to gloss over, won’t we?  (Mexico, with draconian restrictions on legal firearms ownership and just one gun shop in the entire nation, is a good example of how such laws work out in practice, as Karl Denninger explains.)  Universal, legislated disarmament merely makes us all victims, at the mercy of criminals and other predators who will not disarm.

You can’t legislate behavior or morality, because there will always be those who behave as they please, and concoct their own “morality” in which whatever they want to do is right, and all the rest of us (and our laws) are wrong.



  1. "You can't legislate behavior or morality." THAT in a nutshell is it. Period. Carry a gun, be prepared to use it. That way you get to go home at night.

  2. Well, yes you can legislate behavior or morality, to a point.

    Just think of the 'Good Samaritan Laws' that had to be enacted because, previous to their enactment, people were being criminally charged or sued for acting as a good samaritan.

    Then there's all the laws against self-defense. Sure, some to many states have self-defense laws allowing the real victim to defend himself, but how many times after it's deemed a clean incident have prosecutors come back and charged the defender with something? Or the fake victim or fake victim's family has sued out of existence the defender, through and with the aid of our legal system that supposedly supports self-defense?

    Just look at laws that charge people for 'animal abuse' for putting their own animals down, which have been applied to FARMS!

    In a sensible land, the government can't legislate behavior or morality. But in a sensible land, the government doesn't need to.

    We do not live in a sensible land. Not for a long time.

  3. Do you have any idea of the increase in "boating accidents" there will be if they come for your guns?

  4. I agree entirely about going armed. Alaska is a constitutional carry state and I have taken advantage of that since it was enacted. I do wonder though with politics heating up if it isn'ttoo coincidental that we have had so many events in such a short time. Could we be seeing a deep government orcestrated black swan event?

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