OSD 106: Law is a verb

The measure of ungovernability is the size of the gap between the law on paper and the law in practice.

Reno May lives in California and runs a good YouTube channel. This week, he 3D-printed a bolt-action Glock:

The bolt-action-ness added a lot of complexity. It would have been simpler to just, you know, print a regular Glock. From a technical standpoint, it gets easier all the time. From a legal standpoint, in California at least, it gets harder. And that’s the thing.

Quick digression. Here’s Paul Graham talking about music and intellectual property rights in the internet age (timestamp 34:25):

The funny thing is “what is property?” historically has been somewhat defined by what’s convenient to be property. In the days of hunter-gatherers, it was not convenient for land to be property. But now it is, so now land is property.

If you imagine that we lived on the moon, and we had to get air in pipes and paid for the air, people could charge for smells. People could charge for good smells. So it would seem reasonable for smells to be property. But [today] you walk by a restaurant and you smell this delicious smell — you get this free boost, for nothing.

I think the record labels are like these people who are from the moon. They used to be able to sell these things, because the only way you could get them was through their channel. But now, files move around like smells and it’s just not convenient to charge for them. Ultimately, this stuff is pragmatic.

This dynamic applies to laws, too. On the ground, the law is determined by what’s feasible to have as law. For popular laws (like, say, those against murder), people pretty much follow them voluntarily. For unpopular laws (like, say, those around taxation), feasibility is achieved by making it so that people have little choice but to comply. Employers have to report employees’ income to the IRS, and there’s little way around that. Fitting this theory though, feasibility — and therefore compliance — immediately drops off a cliff when you look at taxation of cash income.

Guns are in an odd spot right now, where the the laws about them are shifting from feasible to infeasible right in front of us. Think about historical examples, like voting rights for women or marriage for gay people. A feasibility breakdown has two steps:

  1. Increasingly widespread disregard for the law

  2. Increasingly ineffective responses from the law’s defenders

That cycle repeats for a few years. Then one day you wake up and the law is so gone that it’s hard to remember it was ever there.

People have known that guns are on this path ever since 3D-printing first became a thing. So that’s not new. What is new is that step 2 has started. A few states have banned homemade guns, and the ATF is thinking about doing the same. But of course the whole point is that they’re unbannable — and getting geometrically more unbannable as manufacturing technology improves — so that takes you back to step 1. Then step 2 again in a couple years, and so on, faster and faster each cycle.

That’s a little bit of a prediction, but it’s much more just a description of how these histories empirically work. A bolt-action Glock isn’t a victory for the idea of gun control. It’s patting the idea on the head while the spiral tightens.


This week’s links

“Gun Culture 2.0 and the Great Gun-Buying Spree of 2020”

A piece in Discourse by Prof. David Yamane.

A guy building an AK out of a shovel

Classic photo essay. Well, essay’s a strong word for it. Photo ramble? Photo fever dream? It’s like Tony Stark forging the arc reactor in the cave.

“Cold dead hands: gun control in Georgia”

Mini-documentary from back in January.


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