Imagining Gun Control in America: Understanding the Remainder Problem

55 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2009 Last revised: 3 Mar 2009

Date Written: December 1, 2008


Gun control in the United States generally has meant some type of supply regulation. Supply restrictions ranging from one-gun-a-month schemes to flat gun bans cannot work without a willingness and ability to reduce total inventory to levels approaching zero ("the supply-side ideal"). This is an impossible feat in a country that already has 300 million guns tightly held by people who think they are uniquely important tools. The average defiance ratio in places that have attempted gun confiscation and registration is 2.6 illegal guns for every legal one. In many countries defiance is far higher. None of those countries has as deep and entrenched a gun culture as the U.S. This remainder problem and defiance impulse mean that we are far past the point where supply restrictions can work. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in D.C.v. Heller that the Second Amendment prohibits general disarmament, the temptation is to view Heller as the central obstacle to effective gun control. This is a mistake born of our failure to confront the incoherence of pre-Heller supply-side controls. This article elaborates the supply-side ideal as the foundation of our most ambitious gun control proposals, explains the remainder problem and the defiance impulse as both cultural and physical phenomena that block supply-side rules, and evaluates a series of familiar gun-control proposals in the context of these structural barriers in order to identify which can work and which cannot.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Nicholas James, Imagining Gun Control in America: Understanding the Remainder Problem (December 1, 2008). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 43, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Nicholas James Johnson (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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