March 24, 1995 Halifax Herald

Paternalistic state laws usually counterproductive

Many Canadians have adopted a strong belief in the value of State paternalism as a means to solve society's problems. In specific instances of vital public interest, it may be a valid belief. But in many cases where the State-knows-best philosophy has been imposed, it has proven to be a very expensive and negative experience.

I'll give two recent examples of how State intervention has failed. First, Government paternalistically resolves that high taxes are the way to get people to quit smoking; it then uses its taxation powers to raise tobacco taxes sky high. Result: a major crime wave (gangland murders, smuggling, etc.), law-abiding people ignoring the law to patronize butt-leggers, plus a hugh loss of tax revenue. Second, government decides on a new type of taxation, G.S.T. Result; a hugh increase in the underground economy and a decrease in the average citizens's respect for the rule of law.

If a real effort was made, many issues of this newspaper could be filled with other examples of failed state paternalism. More government is not the answer to most of our problems; the more government intervenes in trying to engineer the behaviour of law-abiding citizens, the more problems it creates. I speak with the authority of experience on the issue of state paternalism; I come from a culture which was, and still is, plagued by it.

The State will find its new gun control law, like most of its other paternalistically founded Acts, will be counterproductive. In the past, when trying to find an easy way to deal with our underlying societal problems, governments have jumped into many things with blinders on, and have almost always come out wanting. I predict, unless drastically changed, the gun control legislation will be no different.

The problems with the proposed law are many; perhaps the false expectations of its advocates will be foremost among them. They will not wake up the morning after its passage to find a world without death by misadventure. Even if we ban guns altogether, knifes, bats, bombs, poisons and so on would quickly fill the gap. If one wants to kill another badly enough, the lack of a gun won't stop one. Anyway, its not a practical hope to realize a non-violent society by trying to ban everything that people will use to kill one another with. How do you ban bare hands?

Also, the law's advocates will find that criminals and psychopaths use unregistered as well as registered guns to commit crimes. Further, any unregistered guns held by this group will not be later registered. And I don't believe that registration is going to be as useful to police forces in crime-solving as the government has stated. For instance, if a gun has been stolen during a break-in, I fail to see how the knowledge that it was registered in the name of a law-abiding citizen would later help police solve a crime committed with it.

To be fair, there are some aspects of the Bill which appear to be positive and proactive. Mandatory sentencing for those convicted of using firearms in the commission of serious indictable offenses is a positive step. Banning the sale of fully automatic weapons and ammunition for the same would be another. New offenses for trafficking and possession of banned weapons might have some impact. But banning these weapons will have the side effect of increasing their value, thus giving the criminal element another lucrative product to further enrich themselves with.

Past experience has shown that many well meant laws have not met goals set. For instance, we have laws which outlaw the sale of cocaine, heroin, etc. Have these laws had much impact on the sale of banned drugs? Not much. What we have founded is an international trade in elicit drugs which has enriched the underworld immeasurably. In trying to enforce them, we have involved international police forces in an endless, bloody, costly and seemingly un-winnable drug war. We should be careful that we don't start another un-winnable war over sale of firearms.

Acquisition permits would be more effective than registration in keeping legally held weapons out of the hands of misfits. However, illegally held weapons are a different story. As long as the world manufactures deadly weapons, misfits will acquire them. During the troubles in Ireland, the British banned the sale, importation and ownership of these weapons; yet both extremist camps are armed to the teeth with them.

I believe in reasonable control over the sale and ownership of deadly weapons. But I don't think enacting a law, which mostly affects the lives of law-abiding citizens, is the best way to do it. As it now stands, the main outfall from the State forcing citizens to register hunting weapons will be the creation of reams of more red tape for additional bureaucrats to administer, and the alienation of a large group of law-abiding citizens.

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 1995   Web Site Map