Dear Gun control advocates, politicians, and “I support the 2nd amendment, but” types, let’s talk about common-sense gun control and coming together for sensible reforms we can all support. Or, since our disparate ideas of what constitutes sensible reform make that impossible, let’s make a deal. We get something we want, you get something you want. Of course, there are a few things to clear up first. Some gun owners won’t compromise, and as a matter of principle will refuse to trade one infringement for another. And even among those, such as myself, who will consider it, there are two primary reasons for holding back . . .
The first is simple: we’re winning. Not everywhere, not on everything, but the broad trends favor us. While a few states have been adopting ever-stricter gun control laws, most have been loosening restrictions. Meanwhile, the federal courts have begun to recognize that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that this right is incorporated by the 14th Amendment. Furthermore, the nationwide increase in so-called assault rifles and concealed carry permits has taken place without the blood-in-the-streets crime wave your side always predicts will follow. In fact, crime keeps dropping as responsible citizens keep tooling up.
Aside from the fact that gun-rights advocates have the upper hand (and thus less incentive to compromise) there’s another reason we’re reluctant to negotiate: We don’t trust you. This is, in part, because gun-control advocates in the US and elsewhere have a history of using incremental tactics to slowly destroy gun rights.
For a recent example, consider New Jersey’s progressive attempts to limit magazine capacity. After each law is passed, it always turns out that there’s more for you, dear gun control advocates, to demand. Another reason we don’t trust you is the palpable disdain many gun control advocates display for gun owners. I don’t mean simply the “gun nuts compensating for tiny penises” meme or similar insults, but also the assumption, prevalent in nearly all debates over concealed carry, that gun owners are always just a tiny provocation away from snapping and going on a rampage.
Finally, we don’t trust you because many (perhaps most) of you don’t know what you’re talking about and appear absurdly ignorant of the objects they’re so keen to regulate. It can provide laughs for our side, but it doesn’t engender trust when you don’t know the difference between automatics and semi-automatics, or create propaganda that shows complete cartridges being fired from a gun barrel. Do some research, preferably hands on research. Take a gun safety course. Get a gun-owning friend (if you have any) to take you to the range, or just go to one by yourself, get some quick instruction and rent some guns.
If you address these points, showing honesty about your goals, respect for those who own guns and support gun rights, and knowledge of firearms, you’ll be in a position to discuss a deal. As a starting point for your side, let’s take universal background checks, or closing the “gun-show loophole.” Something like the Toomey-Manchin proposal: mandatory background checks for all private sales and transfers except between friends and family.
First of all, that “friends and family” exception is important. I recently gave an old gun to a friend who is a single woman living in a rough part of town. My wife and I took her to the range, gave her some instruction, ammo and practice, and handed it over. It’s not an ideal home defense gun, but it beats a tennis racket if she needs to defend herself, and she is planning to get something better in the future. A background check would have been unnecessary, intrusive, wasteful and annoying.
Still, I understand why gun control advocates are troubled by background check-free private sales between strangers, whether at guns shows or facilitated by classified ads (mostly online these days). Background checks don’t prevent criminals from acquiring firearms, but they limit their access to the legitimate market, forcing them to rely on whatever they can find on the black market. Unrestricted private sales seem to provide criminals a way back into the legitimate market. Whether closing that access by requiring background checks for such private sales would make it much harder for criminals to acquire firearms (especially quality firearms) I don’t know, but I understand the reasoning of gun control advocates on this point.
Of course, I also understand the concerns of gun rights proponents, including the many responsible, law-abiding gun owners who engage in private sales and trades at gun shows or through classified ads. Requiring background checks for them would impose burdens upon their time and wallets, and it also sparks fear of a de facto national firearms registry. Accepting this would be a real concession by gun rights proponents.
So, if you want to have any hope of such a proposal becoming law, what are you willing to give us? If you can’t think of anything, don’t worry, we’ve got a list (while I only speak for myself on a willingness to entertain the possibility of a deal, I’m confident that this list would be widely approved by gun-rights supporters).
1. National concealed carry. There are a variety of ways to achieve this, and while there are federalism concerns attached to some of them, it is something I, at least, would be willing to bargain for. States that support gun rights have already put together an impressive network of concealed carry reciprocity, without the attendant bloodshed gun control advocates always predict. Make it national.
2. Reduce the number of gun-free zones, such as post offices. It’s ridiculous that if I go to the post office after a day of carrying concealed while running errands, I have to either disarm (locking in the car the gun I carried safely all day) or break the law (albeit in a way such that I will almost certainly not be caught). Such laws don’t make people any safer, they merely harass law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to prevent criminals from toting their weapons wherever they want. Additionally, there should be a crackdown on states and localities that harass and try to trap citizens travelling peaceably with their firearms. States like New York and New Jersey are being given a free pass to violate the rights of travelers, despite federal law explicitly protecting those rights.
3. Remove the extra regulations on suppressors and short-barreled rifles and shotguns. Since the National Firearms Act of 1934, these items have been subject to special federal restrictions. Despite the extra cost and trouble, they are increasingly popular, even in the face of a 9-month wait time on processing the paperwork. The restrictions don’t make much sense. Real-world suppressors, unlike those in Hollywood, don’t make guns into whisper-quiet assassination machines, but they do reduce the sound of a gun enough to help preserve hearing and cut noise pollution. I believe that many shooters in Europe consider it poor form not to use a suppressor. As for short-barreled rifles, the restrictions are even more nonsensical. I could, if I wished, legally buy an AK pistol with a 10-inch barrel, put an arm brace on it, and then use the arm brace as a poor man’s rifle stock. That would be fine with ATF, the gun would legally be a pistol, despite my misuse of the arm brace to mimic a stock. But if I put a proper rifle stock on without the ATF paperwork, I’d be a felon. Indeed, even having the parts to do so without the proper paperwork could get me into trouble. Criminals, of course, won’t worry about that—someone planning to stick up a bank isn’t going to fuss about the law before taking a hacksaw to his shotgun barrel or screwing a rifle-stock to a pistol.
4. Open the machine-gun registry. Automatic weapons were also included under the NFA, and since the 1980s they’ve been even more heavily restricted, with no new automatic weapons available, except for those with a Class III federal firearms license. The limited supply has driven prices up, making automatic weapons nothing but toys for the rich. I recognize that the thought of new automatic weapons being available to law-abiding civilians scares gun-control advocates, so let’s compromise: keep them subject to the regulations of the NFA, but open the registry to new ones. That was the situation for about 50 years (before that, automatic weapons were subject to no federal regulation) and they weren’t commonly used in crimes during that period.
5. Improve the restoration of 2nd amendment rights. This issue could be a political land mine, and I understand why electoral candidates aren’t likely to take it up. However, it is the right thing to do. After prison, parole, and probation, there should be a way for former criminals (emphasis on the former) to have their rights restored, from voting rights to gun rights. The process will require prudence, as I believe there needs to be a transition between locking someone up in a cage and fully restoring their rights. However, it’s just silly that someone who served six months for a non-violent crime decades ago, and has behaved him or herself since, can’t own a gun.
I’ll leave it there for now, though I’m sure there are plenty of other suggestions that could be made. The basic point, my dear gun-control advocates, is that in order to get something at the national level you’re going to have to give. I speak only for myself as far contemplating such a deal—I know that some gun owners will never approve of any compromise, and some who might don’t trust you enough to cut any deal—but I’d be willing to accept a deal that gave gun owners some of the points above in exchange for expanding background checks to cover more private sales, provided I felt I could trust you.