Jon Stokes has a post up at Politico this morning, A Gun Nut’s Guide to Gun Control That Works. He’s noted the post-Parkland climate that’s seen states like Vermont and Florida put new restrictions on firearms purchasing and ownership, as well as proposals to repeal the Second Amendment or outlaw all semi-auto firearms and is proposing a fix. A grand bargain that’s designed to satisfy both gun owners and gun controllers by getting each side to give up something.
His big idea: create a federal gun owner’s license that would enable anyone who goes through the process to possess semi-automatic firearms. Once you’re licensed, you no longer have to undergo a background check when you buy a gun. Private sales included. No matter where you live.
A federal license for all semi-automatic firearms would rest on two simple and well-defined concepts, one technical and one legal:
1) A “semi-automatic” firearm is one that fires a single round for each pull of the trigger, automatically reloading in between each shot until the ammo is depleted.
2) “Possession” is a legal concept from the drug war that implies that a person has a contraband item “on or about one’s person,” or has “control” over the item, perhaps by having it in a motor vehicle or in a home.
Because both of these things—“possession” and “semi-automatic weapons”—are easy to define, they’re easy to regulate.
Combine these two concepts with a thorough but reasonable vetting process, and you have the makings of a straightforward, effective system for keeping the most lethal class of weapons out of the hands of bad actors, while simultaneously lifting the burden of arbitrary weapon bans and federal red tape from law-abiding gun owners.
Don’t want to submit to federal licensing? Fine. You can still buy and possess bolt action rifles and revolvers, but would have to fill out a 4473 for each purchase. He’s a little fuzzy on the status of lever action rifles and pump shotguns, but swing with it for a minute.
If you weren’t a license holder, then simple possession of any semi-auto weapon would be a felony. Don’t have one on your person, or in your car or home. As for taking possession of the types of guns you could have without a license, then it’s universal background checks and FFL transfers for you—basically the status quo, in most states.
In exchange for this new regime, all states will have to drop their “feature-based” bans on guns like AR-15s, “high capacity” magazines and the like. In other words, if you live in Pennsylvania and drive across the Delaware with an AR or a 17-round magazine in your trunk, you won’t be risking a few years in a New Jersey jail. If you’re hired by a California-based company and need to relocate, you can take your AK and and your full capacity G17 with you.
What if you own semi-automatics now, but don’t want to go through federal licensing? Again, he’s fuzzy, though he throws out a possible three to five-year “grace period” during which you could presumably sell or, uh, turn in your semi-auto guns (barring any unfortunate boating accidents, of course).
Gun controllers would give up their state and locally-based gun control laws. All legal firearms would be legal in all 50 states. But the anti-gun side would get, effectively, universal background checks. A full-blown, probably TSA-Pre-level check for the federal semi-auto license, and standard NICS checks on all firearms sales, including private sales, for non-licensed individuals.
Stokes’ plan, such as it is, leaves much to be decided.
There are a lot of important details to be worked out, like the status of pump-action and lever-action guns, or the specific requirements for getting a license and keeping it current, or due process requirements for restoring a revoked license. Gun control advocates might want any gun that can fire without reloading included in the licensing regime (pump- and lever-action guns), and gun rights advocates might want current federal restrictions on suppressors and short-barreled rifles dropped. These types of issues could surely be ironed out, as long as we can agree on the basic framework of trading all federal and state bans and registries for a national semi-auto licensing regime.
Oh, and about the requirement for that federal license . . .
Yeah, we’re going to fight over that. A lot, probably. But that fight would be way more reality-centered and sane than our current fights over pistol grips and barrel shrouds and telescoping stocks.
I’m not sure where that optimism comes from.
What about New Jersey’s ban on hollow point ammunition? Dunno. That would have to be “worked out,” too. Would SBRs and suppressors be de-regulated? Dunno. Maybe.
What if President Shannon Watts pushes through a may-issue regime, effectively putting an end to anyone obtaining a federal gun license?
This would be a concern, but it’s already a concern. We may have to rely on the courts for protection. The gun control side is mistaken if it thinks it’s going to immediately begin to dictate entirely new terms of American gun ownership unilaterally in November. President Donald Trump is in the process of packing the federal courts with conservative judges, and he may get another Supreme Court pick before he leaves office. So even if gun controllers can get Congress to move their way, there’s no guarantee that new laws will survive the inevitable court challenges. (Justice Clarence Thomas recently hinted that he thinks state and local assault weapon bans are unconstitutional.) Plus, there’s no possibility of a gun registry under this scheme, so no matter how bad it gets there’s even less of a threat of confiscation than there is under the current system.
I don’t think that being told to rely on the wisdom of the courts will give gun owners any warm fuzzies.
Methinks that, despite an admirable effort, Stokes has drastically underestimated both the vehemence with which the pro-gun side will resist any federal-level encroachment on their rights (the slippery slope) as well as the intransigence of the gun controllers’ desire to hang onto the strict prohibitions they’ve put in place in states like California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
Plus, even assuming this or a similar grand bargain can be struck, the next time an Adam Lanza or a Nikolas Cruz does what it is they do, all bets will be off. Whether or not the shooter was federally licensed, you’ll hear all the same calls from all the same people to rid America of the scourge of these weapons of war.
Or am I too cynical?