OpEd – Guns and Insider Trading

By Alliance for a Better UTAH’s Founder, Josh Kanter

Does the balance of personal and societal interests require compromising your principles? In the case of gun regulation, a comparison to insider trading shows that it does not.

With the Aurora, Colo., and Sikh Temple shootings, we’ve seen a return to the gun regulation debate. At one extreme are those who claim gun regulation is an attack on the Second Amendment and represents an attempt to “take my guns away.” Others argue that more people should be armed to disrupt events like Aurora (failing to note that such instances of disruption usually involve an off-duty police officer).

At the other extreme are people who want to put the genie back in the bottle — to outlaw gun ownership of any kind. These are folks who truly do want to take your guns away.

In the middle is the majority — people who don’t believe either extreme, or give credence to simplistic slogans like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Gun control originally revolved around access to handguns. Few people discussed the sale of assault weapons, and the National Rifle Association was mostly concerned with handgun regulation expanding to hunting rifles. Back then, the Supreme Court hadn’t yet held that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to gun ownership.

Today, the court’s position has shifted and the individual right to bear arms is the law of the land. However, nothing says that the right is completely unfettered. Even the right to free speech has been curtailed (e.g., yelling “fire” in a crowded theater) when society’s best interest is deemed to trump the constitutional right of the individual.

At the core of this debate is finding the right balance between reasonable regulation that promotes the betterment and protection of society, and the rights of the individual.

And there is the analogy to insider trading. Before going to law school, I wrote my college honors thesis about insider trading in the stock market and the implications of law and economic theory on the regulation of that activity. The principle theory arguing for the decriminalization of insider trading is that allowing it increases the efficiency of markets and that its criminalization does nothing to stop the criminal from engaging in the activity (the insider trading version of “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”).

But an overwhelming majority of people agree that regulation of insider trading is good for society as a whole. A modest curb on free speech and the free market, discouraging the behavior at the outset, and penalizing those who are caught, will not eliminate the problem, but will make society a better place.

When we apply such thinking to guns, one can easily fit reasonable gun regulation within a value set that fiercely defends one’s constitutional right to own them. A gun advocate can still believe that a gun-free zone around schools is in our children’s interest — not because it keeps criminals from approaching schools with guns but because it gives the police immediate probable cause to stop and question that individual.

A rigorous background check won’t take an illegal gun out of a criminal’s hands, but it might stop one unstable person from walking into a school or movie theater with a gun. And that is a price society should be willing to pay.

So unless you live at the extremes, reaching a reasonable balance doesn’t mean giving up the principles on which your value system is based.

See it on the Salt Lake Tribune HERE

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