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Gun writer Dan Baum posted a thoughtful comment under last night’s post about the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. My article pointed out that their report, Trace the Guns, is junk science. In response, Mr. Baum raised wondered why gun enthusiasts get their knickers in a twist about “common sense” gun laws. For example, “It doesn’t seem to me that limiting people to one handgun purchase a month is the first step on the road to tyranny.” I used to argue against this idea (recently defeated in Massachusetts) with John “More Stats, Less Crime” Lott’s assertion: if your life was threatened, you might need multiple guns around the house to protect yourself. I now know better . . .

Strategically, wearing a gun is the best way to protect yourself in your own home. While there’s nothing wrong with having a backup gun or two or three placed around the premises, a defensive handgun strapped to your body or in your pocket should be your primary defense. Safest for you (rapid response time), safest for the kids (if it isn’t in a locked safe, it’s on your person).

So what IS wrong with limiting gun buyers to one gun a month? Why NOT restrict sales? In fact, it’s got nothing to do with pragmatism and everything to do with tyranny.

The justification for the “gun a month” law: by limiting the supply of guns to legal buyers, the government limits the possibility that those guns will end up in criminals’ hands. (It can’t be an anti-spree killer law, ’cause then you’d have to limit the number of bullets a person can buy.)

Edged weapons are just as dangerous as guns (some would say more so), but you can buy as many as you like. And it does seem a bit odd to attempt to curtail the supply of guns to criminals when there are already an estimated 300 million firearms in the U.S. And counting. Perhaps limiting the demand—by locking up more criminals or preventing people from becoming criminals—would be a more sane approach.

I digress . . .

For argument’s sake, let’s accept this undocumented (a.k.a. “common sense”) “one-gun-per-month curtails criminal access” premise. The problem is that any such restriction profoundly alters the relationship between the government and the governed. It says “we don’t think you’re responsible enough to buy more than one gun a month.” And (let’s face it) “only gun nuts need more than 12 guns a year.”

It certainly seems to make sense. You know; like a bartender cutting you off when you’ve had enough. It’s for your own good and the good of society in general. C’mon. You don’t need that drink. You just want it because you’re drunk and stupid and don’t know any better. But I do. I know better than you and I’m cutting you off.

See the problem?

Gun owners are not drunks. In the main, they already own multiple guns. They might have—gasp!— bought two at the same time. And yet, for some reason, they still consider themselves responsible people. People who understand that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. You know: adults.

Firearms owners see the gun-a-month law as one giant step towards the Nanny State. You don’t have to live in the U.K. for 18 years to know that the Nanny state—where the government knows what’s best for you—-is a bridge to tyranny. A road to hell paved with good intentions.

If the government can tell you how many guns you can buy, it can tell you that you shouldn’t have more than one car per family (save the environment). That you shouldn’t have cosmetic surgery (save money for people who need essential health care). That you should pay a license fee to subsidize government TV (to encourage “fairness”).

Obviously, the government does stuff like this all the time already; through taxes, subsidies, regulations and legislation. But there is a point at which gun-owning Americans draw the line: guns.

Guns are more than a commodity. They’re a symbol of freedom. In the main, American gun owners believe they should be free to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. They’re not. But that’s the ideal. And guns represent the ideal. They’re seen as the bulwark of democracy: the last defense against Nanny state tyranny.

Limit guns and you limit Americans right to defend themselves against criminals and their own government’s intrusion. Intrusion they can see, hear and feel in their wallet. Gun owners believe that the freedom to defend themselves should be virtually unlimited; they do not take kindly to non-gun owners deciding what those limitations should be.

The question then becomes: is it true? Would limiting gun purchases to one-a-month put us on a slippery slope towards tyranny? Gun control advocates see this ballistic line in the sand as the deranged byproduct of uneducated, dangerously paranoid minds. Gun owners see it as matter-of-factual. Whatever the truth of the matter, I don’t think we’re going to reconcile these views here. Ever.

Let’s put it to a vote! Oh wait, they already have. And the idea got shot down. Next?

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  1. Robert: There are also other reasons to oppose one-gun-a-month laws. First, in order to be effective you would have to outlaw private sales.

    This has long been a goal of gun banners because once you outlaw private sales you put the hand of the government into every firearms sale, which significantly increases the ability of the government to restrict, channelize and otherwise infringe upon the right to bear arms.

    Second, it's a "camel's-nose-in-the-tent" kind of law designed to acclimatize people to the notion that an agent of the state ought to be authorized to tell you what you can buy, when, and how many you can buy.

  2. Well, okay Robert. If gun owners are going to cling to the view that guns are somehow outside the norms of democratic discourse, and are uniquely beyond negotiation, we will be fighting about them forever. But I don't get it. Everything in a democracy is a negotiation. I've had people say to me, as a writer, "How would you like it if we were negotiating your First Amendment rights?" To which I respond, "We negotiate our First Amendment rights all the time." Try saying "fuck" on the radio. Try handing out pamphlets calling for the violent overthrow of the government. (The one right the First Amendment should protect, if one reads history.) A certain element of gun owner, though, takes the view that when it comes to guns, nothing is negotiable. It's wack.
    I'm starting to think this type of gun owner actually enjoys ginning up the threat of bans and camel's-nose-under-the-tent and slippery slopes and all that. It seems to fill them with the warm glow of resentment that has been such a noxious feature of our national political culture since Ronald Reagan was president. I say to both sides: drop the resentment, drop the culture wars. Gun controllers need to a) acknowledge that Heller and McDonald confer an individual right to keeping and bearing arms and publicly renounce both bans and the kind of foolishness Chicago is trying to pull that is a functional ban, and b) using prohibition laws to wage war on a culture is as illegitimate as the cultural warfare inherent in marijuana prohibition. And we gun enthusiasts need to recognize that while guns aren't instruments of Satan, they're not the saviors of mankind either, and that it may occasionally be worth enduring some inconvenience to save lives. If that makes me a libtard friend-of-tyranny troll, so be it.

    • "It seems to fill them with the warm glow of resentment that has been such a noxious feature of our national political culture since Ronald Reagan was president."

      Did your history textbook start in 1981?

      And that's why I'm a big fan of the S&W 638 Bodyguard Airweight Stainless! (inside joke with RF)

    • Of course, guns and firearms safety is not "outside the norms of democratic discourse." We're discoursing [sic] it right now, aren't we?

      But a government imposed bans or restriction isn't discourse. Our founders would have called it tyranny.

      We need to keep discoursing [sic] this and find reasonable solutions that serve both to make us safer AND preserve our rights. These aren't mutually exclusive objectives.

  3. Dan,

    I don't know where you get your ideas:
    If gun owners are going to cling to the view that guns are somehow outside the norms of democratic discourse, and are uniquely beyond negotiation

    My right to free speech is uniquely beyond negotiation, the same as yours, right?

    Or can I seek to impose a 1 comment per month law on people who don't share my views? Can I seek laws requiring you to have a background check before each time you speak in public?
    Not at a gathering but simply exercising your right to speak in public?
    How about a limit on the number of words you can use at any one time?

    I see you focusing on the gun and not the Right. If you support gun control, would you be willing to see those same types of restrictions on other rights?

    From your ability to speak in public to your ability to have a gathering?
    Maybe you think it is reasonable to require a "Concealed Meeting Permit" system if you want to get together with more then one person in your home, eh?

  4. To take an argument ad absurdium is to resign from it. As I pointed out above, nobody's free speech is beyond negotiation. No rights are. In a big, complex, polyglot democracy, everything is negotiated.
    If someone could demonstrate that making more than one comment a month led to a public health hazard, I'd be willing to hear the argument. But, of course, that's absurd. It isn't absurd, though, to imagine that allowing people to buy unlimited numbers of firearms at one time, in states with more permissive laws, might lead to trunkfuls of those guns making their way to places with stricter laws to be sold illegally. I've spoken to a guy who says that's just fine, that subverting New York's overly strict gun laws by driving carloads of handguns up I-95 is a citizen's duty. He's a conservative; how that squares with his instinctive feeling that the smaller and more local government the better, I don't know. But at least he was making an argument.
    When I see my fellow gun enthusiasts go apoplectic over things like the one-gun-a-month rule — which is clearly going to inconvenience only people who are up to no good — or laws requiring people to report stolen guns to the police, I'm embarrassed for them and for me. C'mon people. We can share this country with people who don't share our enthusiasm for firearms. It is not the first step on the road to totalitarianism to listen and, where we can, respond with generosity.

  5. Actually, time constraints on speech has already been attempted — and ruled a violation of the First Amendment.

    In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., that found that the provision in the McCain-Feingold Act (aka Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or BCRA) that banned corporate and union funded ads 30 days before a primary or caucus and 60 days before a general election. I would think that assigning arbitrary time restrictions on the purchase of firearms would (should) be equally unconstitutional.


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