OSD 117: If a foam cooler full of gasoline was a law

Lessons from a meme.

A couple things caught our eye this week.

The first was a video about states starting to refuse to enforce federal gun laws:

And the second was a meme playing off the “people are hoarding gasoline in plastic bags” thing:

The joke is that gasoline dissolves styrofoam and leaves you with a sticky, highly flammable goo. So in this case styrofoam is inherently incompatible with the thing it’s supposed to contain. That’s a useful metaphor for federal gun laws.

On the one hand, the nature of gun ownership — the point of it, really — is that it decentralizes decision-making about self-defense. Who’s allowed to defend themselves, and how they should do so, becomes a loose emergent consensus rather than a top-down decision. There’s a similar spirit to state-level decisions to stop helping the federal government enforce gun laws. (Although it bears mention here that “Second Amendment sanctuary” bills are generally more theatrical than actual, and do not change any state or local police activity.)

The concept of federal gun law is in natural tension with all that. It’s making a centralized, top-down decision about something that is the embodiment of decentralized, bottom-up power. Of course, the reason federal gun laws exist is that people disagree about whether decentralization is a feature or a bug. If you think it’s a bug, then trying to centralize things would seem like a sensible tactic.

But whether it’s sensible on paper is increasingly irrelevant. As we’ve discussed many times in past editions of this newsletter, it gets less enforceable every day. Which means the gap keeps growing between what the law tells people to do and what they actually do. Legislating on that is like pouring gasoline into a foam cooler, watching it melt, and saying, “I know how to fix this, let’s use a bigger cooler.”

This week’s links

Noisefighters Panobridge

Cool to see more innovation flooding into the night vision world. Will be good to see where we’ll be after these incremental innovations compound for a few years.

3D-printed 1911

Two. Galactic. Wars.

Ashley Hlebinsky’s Senate testimony on homemade guns

A technical, matter-of-fact explanation from the Cody Firearms Museum’s curator emerita and senior firearms scholar.

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