The Problem with Gun Laws

Whenever violence breaks out,  one of the reverberating cries is that we need stricter gun laws. The new refrain has become ‘common sense’ reform… but the argument goes that no new gun control, no matter how sensible, is going to help reduce the danger caused by modern firearms. Let’s jump in.

Banning Automatic Weapons: Automatic weapons are functionally unavailable in the United States, and have been since 1986, when Federal law forbade the sale of automatic firearms made after 1986. Owning a fully automatic firearm requires a six month wait and a $200 tax fee, along with a substantial investigation and background check (and a letter from your local sheriff) to allow you to obtain one. Moreover, the collectibility of these firearms has skyrocketed to the point that MAC-10s, which once retailed for less than $500, are now worth $5,000 and exchanged solely between collectors. With a dwindling supply of repair parts and fewer and fewer firearms in circulation every year, it’s almost impossible to get a ‘machine gun’ anymore as a law abiding citizen.

Expanding Background Checks: Even most gun owners agree that in general, background checks are a good idea. The idea of obtaining a permit to obviate the need for such checks is a good compromise, allowing people to buy firearms once they have established proof that they’re not felons, domestic abusers, or otherwise barred from possession. While the system continues to need upgrades, it’s tied in with the national criminal justice database.  A standard background  check runs a name against a list of violent offenders nationally, along with anyone who is mentally incompetent to own a firearm. If the system flags the name, then the FBI has 72 hours to show good cause to deny the sale. This time frame was established after several law-abiding citizens were functionally barred from buying firearms due to a wait of several weeks as the FBI ‘processed’ their request without returning a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Watch ListIt’s an anathema to the freedom and spirit of America to deprive someone of rights ‘under suspicion’. Due process is a deeply held and fundamental liberty assured to all American citizens, and it applies to everything from your ability to conduct commerce to your ability to travel freely between the states without harassment. Merely being investigated by a law enforcement agency has no legal weight, nor should it– imagine being informed you had your driver’s license suspended because the local precinct was ‘investigating you’. Or your phone was confiscated and scanned because an irate neighbor made an anonymous call accusing you of being a drug dealer. Giving the Federal Government the power to suspend your rights without due process or even probable cause is a dangerous and fundamentally anti-American sentiment.

Banning Assault Rifles: In honesty, most people don’t really know why they think assault rifles in American need to be banned. They’re told that these guns are somehow more dangerous than other guns, and therefore should not be available to the public. After all, they’re made for the military, right? At close ranges, military rifles are not immensely more dangerous than a handgun. Considering how difficult they are to conceal and hide, they’re simply not a statistically asymmetrical contributor to gun violence. The round they employ is designed for distance shooting, not as much for close quarters work.  Most importantly, of all the gun crime that occurs, the use of rifles– any rifle– encompasses a fractional percentage of the total violence, and an even smaller percentage of homicides nationwide. They’ve achieved media attention because they’re easy to identify and characterize as a weapon of war, despite practical uses for self defense.

Banning Extended Magazines: What sounds like a simple solution has become something of a sore point with many gun owners. They’re viewed as a ‘slow infringement’, and not without cause. A progression of laws aimed at reducing magazine capacities has whittled away many common firearms, ranging from antique .22 bolt-action rifles to venerable antique Garands to even iconic 1911s. The argument has been made that forcing someone to reload more frequently makes them more vulnerable to being disarmed, but this is a view of a firefight that is largely rooted in Hollywood. No one can count rounds fired when they’re stone deaf, let alone start peeking their head up from cover to see if the lull in the firing is due to a reload or lack of available targets. Setting aside the ethical issue of confiscating goods from law-abiding citizens, the argument about limited-capacity magazines was fairly well obviated by the Virginia Tech shooter, who armed himself with a slingpack with over a dozen low-capacity magazines loaded in it.

Banning Mail-Order Guns: No firearm can be sold across state lines in private or commercial sale without going through a Federal Firearms License holder. A Form 4473 must be completed on the sale and retained for seven years by the retailer.

Banning Replaceable Magazines: Arguments for the bullet button might come the closest to obviating the damage by a rogue shooter, but there are pitfalls there, too. Mandating a bullet button on every gun would require substantial modification to all owned firearms, at no small cost to the owner. Enforcing it would require Big Brother levels of supervision, policing, and investigation into millions of legal gun owners. Pointedly, the San Bernadino shooters were able to (illegally) remove the bullet button from their legally purchased AR and convert it to accept larger capacity magazines. The only way to permanently modify all existing firearms to accept a bullet button would require registration and confiscation on a massive scale.

Gun Show Loophole and Private Transfers: Gun shows are swap meets for gun owners. Most of them show up to buy, sell, and trade their private collection. Others are local retailers who are looking to move stock and build up their name or brand a bit. Of guns used in crimes, few are obtained at gun shows. Most of the private commerce and trade is for rare or collectible firearms, and regular firearms that are sold by licensed dealers still must go through regular background checks. According a survey by the FBI in 2004, only about 3% of criminals using guns obtained them via commercial sale. A whopping 70% of the firearms employed were obtained from friends and family, stolen, or bought via fraudulent means. Washington has recently passed legislation banning the private transfer of firearms to and from individuals, even loans among family members without paying a transfer fee and filing the appropriate paperwork with the state, functionally forcing a person to register their firearms. Obviously, criminals dealing in stolen firearms don’t pay much heed to this law.

Gun-Free Zones: Federal law makes it a felony offense to trespass onto school grounds with a firearm. Other locations include post offices, federal buildings, and courthouses. It’s worth observing that virtually every mass shooting in the last 20 years has occurred in a gun-free zone. A GFZ only pauses otherwise law-abiding citizens from carrying legally. Florida bans carry of a firearm in a bar, while Idaho for instance only makes exception to carrying while intoxicated. The one exception to this is somewhere like a courthouse, where metal detectors and stiff security– along with a large presence of armed police officers– is able to permanently secure the area. Doing so on a large scale would invite a tremendous expense to the tax payer as we put security guards outside of every post office.

Psychological Screening: Even the American Psychological Association has decried the idea of mental wellness screening for firearms ownership. There is no evaluation that can be done in an hour that will catch anything but the most obviously unstable of individuals, and two psychologists might radically disagree on whether a person is actually dangerous or not. Moreover, no mental health expert is going to accept the liability of ‘approving’ a person in that fashion, and there are serious implications about violation of medical privacy as well. The legal definition is to adjudicate someone mentally deficient, which has serious repercussions including the loss of financial independence and even being forced to accept a state-mandated caretaker.

Banning Hollowpoints: One of the more absurd gun measures is the idea of making guns ‘less lethal’. Determined adversaries are only stopped by losing too much blood, the psychological shock of being injured, or being physically incapacitated and unable to move. Gunfights are not like Hollywood portrays them. Using round-tip bullets significantly increases the chance that your assailant will endure their injuries and continue aggressing for minutes at a time, particularly if they’re using PCP or other drugs.

Carry Permits: Permits make perfect sense for law-abiding citizens, but criminals have little care or concern for such laws. In some states, the wording of the law is that a Sheriff or local law-enforcement ‘May Issue’ the permit– which means that in Los Angeles County, out of thousands of applications for a legal carry of a firearm, the local sheriff only issued a few hundred permits. This results in a high percentage of the criminal population carrying a firearm, illegally or not, and a very low population of law-abiding citizens being able to legally defend themselves. Most of those permits were issued to state officials, retired cops, private security, and friends of the sheriff’s office. The same goes in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. Libertarian-minded voters view the permitting system as government oversight and interference in a Constitutionally guaranteed right. In particular, this legislation can severely impact victims of abuse or violence who might have urgent and just cause for needing a firearm for self-protection, but be otherwise prevented from obtaining a firearm due to cumbersome or deliberately discouraging permitting requirements. Telling a battered abuse victim they can’t buy a gun for self-defense is about as helpful as telling them a patrol car will come by once every hour or so.

Banning All Firearms: As much as one might not see a use for firearms, they’re a Constitutionally guaranteed right. For the framers of the Constitution, there was no difference between a rifle used by a militiaman and one employed by  the same man as a hunting rifle. Numerous letters and correspondences drafted during that era similarly assert the notion that the Founders intended this to protect the right to self-defense, as well. In DC vs. Heller, the Supreme Court affirmed in clear language that the 2nd Amendment applied specifically to firearms used for self defense, notably pistols (which were illegal to possess in DC, even on private property). Other appeal courts have shot down restrictions on permit issuance and carry laws that interfered with a right to bear arms.

FBI Survey: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fv9311.pdf

 

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