Libertarians who oppose militarized police should support gun control

When I tweeted out this stunning stat earlier this week, no shortage of people noted an obvious explanation for why British police were so much less likely to fire their guns: there were far fewer guns around them. The U.K. has some of the world’s strictest limitations on gun ownership—handguns are all but prohibited, while shotguns and rifles require a police certificate and special justification (self-defense does not qualify.) There are an estimated 14,000 handguns in civilian hands in the U.K. (population 63 million) and slightly more than 2 million shotguns and rifles. Estimates for the number of total firearms in civilian hands in the U.S. float north of 300 million. Simply put, if the police in the U.S. seem a lot more on edge than those across the pond, they have good reason to be…

Balko noted that only a small proportion of gun homicides, and of shootings of police officers, are done with assault rifles or other high-powered firearms, undermining the notion that a lack of regulations on such guns obligates police to armor up as they have. OK, but wouldn’t expanding background checks on handgun purchases—as the national police organizations adamantly support—make it somewhat less likely that those guns wouldn’t end up in the hands of people who might pose a threat to the police? Maybe so, said Balko, but he was doubtful that police would respond to such a change in policy by letting down their (literal) guard: “It doesn’t seem to me the police are going to sort of voluntarily pull back,” he said. Generally speaking, he said, his libertarianism made him wary of “the idea that government is abusing its power and authority and thereby we should put more restrictions on what citizens should have.”

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