Gun law isn’t the only example of regulation-by-dimness, but it’s certainly a prime arena. The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, for example, focused entirely on cosmetic characteristics. At an Association of American Law Schools meeting that year, I watched law professor Joseph Olson turn a plain-vanilla Ruger Mini 14 into a dreaded “Assault Weapon” by adding a pistol grip, folding stock, bayonet lug (“not much bayonet-lug crime,” he joked) and so on.

All the actual gun-parts were the same; the law in question focused instead on flashy accessories — like regulating cars based on mag wheels and spoilers, instead of the horsepower in the engine.

Do politicians really think that such transparently silly rules make us safer? It’s hard to say. The brighter ones no doubt realize that the whole thing is a sham, useful mostly for rallying the troops, garnering TV time and distracting voters from things like lingering unemployment and the ever-mounting debt.

On the other hand, how many of the “brighter ones” are there, really? The evidence doesn’t look good.