357 Magnum Revolver by Sam Bourland
On Monday, September 23rd, Frank Michel wrote an Op-ed entitled, "Gun control is not an option . . . it is a necessity to save lives!" As is the case with most gun control proposals, it begins with the obligatory claim of "supporting the Second Amendment," and then quickly insists that we need to create "sane gun policy." Mr. Michael specified what he feels qualifies as such: "ban the rapid-fire assault rifles and add-on clips"mandatory background checks at all venues where guns are sold, a 30-day waiting period, and a national database for gun ownership." Enacting all of these, he insists, will "retain the right of the individual to have a gun for personal protection, for sport, and even for collecting."
If you didn't know anything about guns, crime trends and gun politics, this might seem like a reasonable proposition, but does it really pass the "common sense" test? Let's examine these ideas one by one.
First, "rapid-fire assault rifles" are already illegal. These military weapons have a select-fire switch on the side that allow them to change from semi-automatic mode (one shot per trigger pull) to fully automatic machine gun mode (keeps firing while trigger is pressed). Very special licensure is needed to sell, own or possess such a weapon and, as a result, they're almost never used in a crime. These guns are not the ones used in Aurora, CO or in Newtown, CT. Where the confusion comes in is that these firearms look a lot like the civilian AR-15 rifle, legally available only in a semi-automatic version. They are no more deadly, powerful or accurate than many legal sporting and hunting guns.
Politics has also been injected into the conversation here, in the form I refer to as "politricks." Groups whose stated goal is to ban private gun ownership concocted the term "assault weapon" (which, unlike "assault rifle" had no real definition) to confuse the public into supporting such bans. Their current target, the AR-15, is the most popular, widely used sporting, hunting and defensive rifle in the U.S. market. The proof of their deception is on full display at the Violence Policy Center website. They write, ""The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons--anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun--can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons." (See it for yourself here.)
So-called "assault weapons," are but a small subset of all rifles, and rifles only account for about 4% of all murders using guns . When the basic premise, then, is either misinformation at best, or an outright lie at worst, and the target of the attack is on such a rarely used set of firearms, can we really call it "common sense?"
To let you know where I'm coming from, I've been a gun owner for most of my life -- more than 40 years now. I'm also a CCW permit holder and sport shooter. I'm the first to agree that we need to do more to curb violence of all kinds, especially where guns are used. In fact, we have made significant progress! Despite the advent of the 24/7, 365 news cycle, actual violent crime has dropped by half over the past two decades or so. This, at the same time the number of guns in circulation has increased by over 100 million, according to some estimates, putting enough guns in private hands to arm more than eight of every ten Americans. If Mr. Michael's assertions are correct, then how can this possibly be?
The fact is: it can't. Responsible, law abiding citizens are a great deterrent to crime, and the legal CCW movement that has swept the nation is one major reason for the improvement. What goes unmentioned and unnoticed is that there is a major gap between the aforementioned group -- traditional American "gun culture" -- and gang/criminal culture. Drive-by shootings are not being caused by roving bands of angry NRA members. Tolerance of gangs, looking the other way when a drug house opens up in a neighborhood, ignoring pimps and prostitutes running neighborhood streets are all factors in increased violent crime. When calls for new gun laws go out, these are the very people who will feel NO impact! The new laws will only burden the law abiding, disarming them or worse.
Back to the list, one example of "worse" is the proposed "mandatory background checks at all venues where guns are sold." This is already the law for legal FFL (Federal Firearms Licensed) dealers, whether they're at gun shows or in a traditional store. The recent debacle centered on private sales, most of which don't take place at a gun show! Gun control proponents were beside themselves when a recent bill was rejected that supposedly would've solved this problem. Those who understand gun politics knew better. The new law was very poorly written, with sloppy language that would've let most of the private sales still go unchecked, and it was done for political reasons.
Rather than focusing on safety, the focus was on discouraging gun sales by adding fees to privately sold guns: a de-facto tax. So, for instance, if you had a gun for sale and your neighbor wanted to buy it, you'd both have to go to a gun store for the owner to run a check. Much like taking a fresh cut of steak to a restaurant and asking the cook there to prepare it, FFLs don't see this as fair. To them, a private seller is competition, costing them a sale. Also, shuffling paperwork takes up their time, which is valuable, so they will add a fee of $25 to $50 for their "trouble." Imagine if this was true when selling your car to a friend or your teenage son: you'd take it to the local car dealer so that they could mess with all of the paperwork, and even though you're only transferring the car to your son for a dollar, the dealer will want a $200 fee! Suddenly it's not such a bargain.
The Coburn Amendment proposed, instead, that the NICS (National Instant Check System) be put online for everyone to use. Gun sellers could run and print background checks of their own, anywhere, with a computer, tablet or mobile phone. ALL sales, no matter where they took place, would then be checked, without any of the fees. Gun ban forces insisted that the fees and registration be retained, so the entire bill failed. True gun safety lost in the name of all or nothing politics.
During the Clinton presidency, a 5-day waiting period was eventually replaced by the NICS check system. Waiting periods are problematic. While some see them as a "cooling off period," the scenario of an angry person going out, buying a gun and instantly using it is a rare one. The average age of a gun recovered from a crime scene is between 6 and 13 years, depending on the state. If this wasn't reason enough to dismiss the idea, the stories of women involved in rancorous divorce proceedings being killed by violent partners was more than ample. The above 30-day waiting period seems arbitrary and even worse. I don't see gang members giving it much thought, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "A right delayed is a right denied."
Now it's time to ask ourselves if the last proposal, "a national database for gun ownership," qualifies as sensible. Giving the government a list of every gun owner in America telling them who owns what type of guns(s) and where they're kept has absolutely no utility for crime prevention. As gun control proponents like to say, "we register cars," but it fails to prevent accidents or other crimes on wheels. Registering cars is mainly done to return stolen cars to rightful owners, yet many police departments have a policy against returning any guns for any reason. You might logically ask, then, if a registry could be useful in solving a "gun crime," and again, the answer would be no, it cannot. Such registries have been tried in several states, and after amassing millions in cost overruns and hogging-up tremendous manpower resources, only a paltry handful of crimes were ever solved. I know of no program that is still active. Even Canada abandoned its plans for a long gun registry after wasting millions in taxpayer dollars.
Still, all of this is not the biggest objection to a registry! President Lyndon Johnson said, "You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered." History is always the best predictor of the past, and we have many accounts of government registries being used to facilitate outright confiscation of guns suddenly deemed illegal. These aren't dusty old stories, nor are they from some faraway country! They're right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. The most recent was California's ban of the SKS rifle. Very seldom used in a crime, political tricksters spent much time and money demonizing this firearm to the point where legislators wanted them all registered and new sales banned. They assured current owners that the list would "never be used to confiscate weapons," promising those who complied that they'd be able to keep them. SKS obliged. Then the legislature rescinded their promises, giving owners a brief window to sell or dispose of their guns before using the registry as a shopping list for police. One sad story emerged of a police officer who was a gun collector being awakened by his fellow officers who came for his SKS. Did anyone safer?
Again, I don't dismiss the valid concerns about violent crime, but we cannot make a positive impact by taking an "us vs. them" attitude. Gun owners/people who consider themselves members of "gun culture" and those concerned with the safety of our communities and the all too frequent misuse of firearms must come together as one community. We must speak with one voice, rejecting the failed policies of the past and insisting on laws that will be effective. We also must realize that there's a limit to what the law alone can do. We need the tools to improve our mental health care system; we need in-school conflict resolution training; we need to stop trying to disarm the innocent and, instead, focus on "criminal control." Stop recidivism; impose zero tolerance for gangs and their activity; end the foolish, expensive and deadly "war on drugs" and the nightmare of dope houses, neighborhood meth labs, dope dealer street fights and the endless blood that goes with them. And for pity's sake, stop bashing the NRA, who instructs more police, military and civilians in the safe handling and use of firearms than any other organization anywhere. They aren't the enemy, understand guns and their politics better than anyone and deserve a seat at the table, too. That seems more like "common sense" to me.