Unintended Consequences and the
Difference Between Us and Them



Print Friendly and PDF

By Claire Wolfe, May 23rd 2014
JPFO writer contributor, © 2014.

Unintended consequences are fascinating. One of the most intriguing things about them is that they're often so easy to predict -- at least for people not directly involved in the disastrous decisions.

Such was the case with two recent choices, one made by anti-gunners and one made by pro-gunners.

Any dispassionate observer could have predicted that when victim disarmers legislated against firearms and magazines, the companies making those products would head for friendlier territory. Oh, maybe nobody could have forseen Magpul departing Colorado with such buccaneer panache. But did New York politicians really, truly imagine that they could get away with punishing Remington when Alabama was waiting with open arms to welcome exiled gun-makers?

Any dispassionate observer could also have predicted that when open-carry advocates began parading their long guns into previously firearm-neutral businesses like Chipotle, they'd succeed only in making themselves look foolish. And in giving the odious Bloombergian "Moms" one of their rare victories. And in prompting poor beleagured corporations (who were previously willing to live and let live) to say, "Get out."

Perfectly obvious to anybody but the people making the bad choices.

The many varieties of unintended consequences

Of course, some unintended consequences are genuinely unpredictable. And a few are actually positive.

Wikipedia says there are, in fact, three types of unintended consequences:

  • Unexpected benefits
  • Unexpected drawbacks
  • Perverse results

Unexpected benefits happen, for instance, when a drug turns out to have more uses than anybody originally predicted. Aspirin preventing heart attacks. The antidepressant Wellbutrin helping people quit smoking. Unexpected benefits can be very much a mixed blessing. A sunken ship that ends up turning into a healthy underwater habitat is a benefit for marine life and divers -- though no benefit at all to any people whose lives ended in the sinking.

But it's the unexpected drawbacks and the perverse results that have given us the modern Law of Unintended Consequences. And its these two that government seems to specialize in.

Things often (perhaps even usually) go wrong when anyone tries to solve huge social problems or regulate complex systems. For instance, the welfare systems created in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1960s were "intended" to help the poor. When they ended up instead creating an underclass -- leaving millons permanently poor and dependent, discouraging marriage, and creating other problems -- people called for reform. But when the Clinton administration changed the law to push those single mothers off welfare after a limited time, many of the women found that they qualified only for dismal jobs, had to pay child care, and were worse off than before. This, and the later Great Recession, drove a huge increase in Americans needing food stamps, disability benefits, and other types of government support.

Those are examples of unexpected drawbacks -- though the only people who wouldn't have expected them are people blinded by their own agendas.

Perverse results are when an action actually produces the opposite of what proponents expect.

As countries began to madate helmets for bike riders, they discovered a variety of consequences they couldn't have (or didn't) predict. Among them: bike riders, feeling protected by their helmets, started taking more risks and suffered more injuries.

Features designed to prevent car thieves from breaking into parked cars have, apparently and unfortunately, led to an increase in much more dangerous, sometimes deadly, car-jackings.

Prohibition and the modern drug war both hugely increased crime (and corrupted law enforcers and spawned contempt for the law).

The American Enterprise Institute has 10 stunning examples of other ways in which legislative or regulatory "solutions" have actually made matters worse. Some are authentically surprising. Others (like raising taxes to generate more revenue) are drearily predictable to anybody who doesn't think like a legislator or regulator.

Unintended consequenses and gun rights

One unintended consequence currently unfolding in the gun world involves New Jersey's long-passed preemptive law mandating that, within three years after any so-called smart gun goes on sale anywhere in the U.S., no non-"smart" handguns could be sold in the state.

As with so many other anti-gun measures, this arose out of both bigotry and idiocy about how technology (in any field) develops. Other states have made noises about considering the same ban.

The predictable result? Now that companies are attempting to bring the first dangerously fallible smart guns to market, gunfolk are fighting desperately against them instead of simply finding the new-tech firearms to be an interesting (if not ready for prime time) option for those who might want them. And The Brady Center is desperately trying to force the NJ attorney general to decree that, indeed, these "smart" guns are already on the market. Because naturally they see that these new firearms are both expensive and unworkable, and the New Jersey law, if it stays on the books, would become an effective ban on inexpensive, reliable handguns, period.

I doubt that one of those smug politicians who passed the law had the slightest clue about any of this.

Sometimes, fortunately, one faction's negative consequence is positive for somebody else.

When the small, but well-funded groups of anti-gunners succeeded in passing the Brady Law, the so-called assault-weapons ban, and magazine-capacity limits in the early 1990s, no doubt they not only considered their work highly successful, but figured they were on the road to ever-greater achievements.

Instead they awoke the enormous grassroots pro-gun movement. Since then the antis have mostly staggered backwards (except recently in a few blue or purple states; but even there, new anti-gun laws have spawned the unintended consequence of rowdy pushback from previously obedient, respectable citizens.

The difference between us and them

Unintended consequences can happen to anybody, anywhere. But governments -- and "social reformers" using governments as their tool of choice, do specialize in creating negative and perverse results.

Worse, instead of opening their minds and understanding what they're doing, they simply double down. Never admitting that they've caused the problem, they simply propose another complicated, unworkable, catastrophic "reform" to try to fix the original one.

And thus they generate a whole new string of unintended consequences.

Yes, everybody has been hit by unintended consequences, and it's probably also true that all of our friends (or enemies) could have warned us on any number of occasions about the disasters we'd end up causing. Gun-rights activists are no exception.

But this is where yet another difference between the nimble grassroots and the haughty, hidebound elite comes in: We learn from our mistakes.

Do you think New York politicians are going to apologize sincerely to Remington and repeal the stupid law that's driving the long-time NY company to start moving its operations elsehwere? Nooooooooo. Not a chance. They might try to cook up some tax incentives to keep firearm businesses in state. They might craft elaborate laws giving legal exceptions to their business cronies. They'll never just say, "Oops, we were wrong. Must undo that!"

In the real world -- outside of governments, foundations, and K Street lobbying firms -- things work differently.

This week, after Texas OC advocates caused the Chipotle disaster, a coalition of Texas open-carry groups announced some pretty sensible guidelines for more effective OC activism.

There's always hope for those who learn from their mistakes. Those who don't inevitably dig themselves deeper and deeper holes.

Was this information valuable to you? If so, please consider donating, becoming a member or renewing your membership, or buying a DVD, book, tee-shirt, or other gear at our JPFO store.

Back to Top




The JPFO Store

Films and CDs