McClaughry: Gun Control Ideas that Won't Work

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Once again, following the horrific shooting in Orlando, the advocates of gun control are in full voice. Congressional Democrats have even conducted an unprecedented sit-in and shoutfest to stop the workings of the House of Representatives.

The difficulty the Democrats face is that, stripped of the emotion and politically driven posturing, their legislative demands either flagrantly violate the Constitutional rights of law abiding citizens, or are hopelessly ineffective and unenforceable against would-be terrorists and mass murderers.

Take the Universal Background Check. Omar Mateen, the ISIS-supporting Muslim who killed 49 at an Orlando nightclub, purchased his weapons lawfully by passing a background check. The Democrats say we need to find lots more reasons to disqualify "people who shouldn't have guns", and require checks for every transfer, without exception.

How would the Federal government 's functionaries identify the new "people who shouldn't have guns", so as to include Mateen? "Reasonable suspicion", a criterion that liberals strongly opposed when it took the form of the New York City "stop and frisk" law and "driving while black" on I-95.

Amy Goodman, the national spokesperson for the left wing organization Democracy Now!, gives us a clue. She interviewed the leader of the gun confiscation movement in Australia, where there is no constitutional protection for firearms owners.

Goodman quoted Rebecca Baker as saying, "A crucial part of the new laws is proper checking of the background of people who are applying to have guns. It's not only domestic violence, it's about depression and abuse, and many other factors [that] can make a person at risk of violence, not to mention people who are vehemently racist or resentful."

Donald Trump echoes this view, when he said that people who "have even an inclination toward terrorism cannot buy weapons, guns."

In the hands of people like Goodman (and Obama), the "no buy" list is likely to end up including hundreds of thousands of people who were ever rumored to have been treated for depression, or had a vocal argument with his or her significant other, or screamed at his kid's soccer coach, or was mugged by a person of another race, or legally owns a gun in Hawaii, or professes a religious faith whose Holy Book instructs followers to "slay the idolators", or are fed up with high taxes and stupid regulations, or refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, or won't agree that "climate change is real". The government won't notify those listed, and when they discover they've been wrongfully listed, they would face an arduous and costly trip to the Federal judiciary for due process to get their name off.

Persons who know they are ineligible to buy a gun from a licensed dealer usually don't even make the attempt (which is itself a felony). They acquire their guns by informal exchanges, or they steal them. Once that expanded "no buy" list fails to keep a firearm out of the hands of the next shooter, it's a short leap to Australia: repeal our Second Amendment, and confiscate privately owned firearms.

That poses a real problem: resistance. J.D. Tuccille, writing at Reason.com, points out that a California law to register "assault rifles" (sic) in 1990 resulted in 7,000 registrations, out of an estimated 300,000 semiautomatic rifles in private hands. In New Jersey, out of more than 100,000 firearms affected, a similar law brought in 947 people who were target shooters, 888 who rendered their guns inoperable, and four who surrendered them to the police.

Tuccille's conclusion: Americans won't easily submit to a law that takes away their Constitutional right, and as jurors, they won't find an otherwise innocent defendant guilty for possessing a forbidden firearm.

How about banning any semiautomatic rifle that "resembles" an M-16? Such rifles are functionally identical to ordinary semiautomatic hunting and self-defense rifles. They are called "assault rifles" because they are scary looking, with pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet mount etc. An ordinary semi-automatic rifle without the grip, produced in rainbow colors, would do every bit as much damage with equal efficiency. (A military assault rifle fires multiple rounds with one trigger pull, and civilian ownership is heavily regulated.)

Banning the gun does not solve the mass murder problem. Until Mateen's rampage in Orlando, the worst massacre by a private citizen in American history — 38 schoolchildren and six adults — came from a bomb planted under a school in Bath Township, Michigan in 1927. It was perpetrated by a man angry about high taxes and losing an election for town clerk.

Universal Background Checks, vague and fanciful reasons for blocking a purchase, and gun confiscation simply won't work in a nation with 300 million guns in private hands, at least without a civil war.

Of course, the people proposing such ideas don't really care if they will work, so long as those awful weapons (and their defenders) take the blame, government becomes far bigger and more intrusive, and the all-powerful state triumphs over the antiquated Bill of Rights protections of the Constitution.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).


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