I seem to be on something of a roll here lately, answering questions that antis have asked. This post is inspired by a fairly regular TTAG anti commenter and poster, mikeb302000. One of his recent comments brought to mind (though he never specifically asked) the perennial anti question, “Why are you gun-nuts against reasonable, common-sense gun laws?” Like so many seemingly simple questions, it has a fairly complex, multi-pronged answer, complicated by the incorrect assumptions in the question itself…
To begin with, I’m not opposed to reasonable gun laws. But I think mikeb and I might disagree on what that means. To me, a “reasonable” gun law is one that limits punishment for each violation to no less than 30 years and no more than 50 years in prison for any government official or employee who uses or proposes to use the color of law or authority to in any way restrict an individual’s ability to manufacture, purchase, own, sell, carry or transport arms of any type. Arms being defined as any weapon type used at the company level of any nation’s regular military forces. For example if the US Army uses Stingers, any MANPAD is allowed, if an Engineer company uses C-4, any high (or low) explosive is okay.
My idea of “common-sense” gun laws may also be at odds with mikeb’s. I’d ban any act which causes or presents the immediate danger of causing damage to the physical or economic welfare of any other person. So no discharge bans “within 500 yards of a dwelling”, but if you hit someone’s house, you’re liable. (Note: Credit where credit is due, this idea was lifted from Robert A. Heinlein’s For Us, The Living.)
I should probably, however, go with the standard anti’s definitions of “reasonable” and “common sense” so let’s go to the Brady Campaign’s State Scorecard for 2010 and see what they think the laws should be. After all, the Brady Campaign is only interested in reasonable common-sense measures to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people so their list should be representative. Right?
The Brady bunch starts out with their anti-trafficking wish-list:
Gun Dealer Regulations:
- State license required
- Record keeping and retention
- Report records to the state, and state retains records
- Mandatory theft reporting of all firearms
- At least one store security precaution required
- Inspections by police allowed
I’m really not certain what the first three of these would do to reduce gun trafficking; dealer licensing and record retention won’t prevent straw buyers from buying weapons or aid in tracking weapons stolen from the dealer. These requirements also would do nothing to stop a dirty dealer from providing weapons to criminals and then claiming they were stolen. They just cause extra work and harassment for legitimate dealers, driving up their costs, thus driving up the cost of firearms.
Mandatory theft reporting? What kind of businessman isn’t going to report the theft of high value items from the store? If for no other reason, there’s the fact that a lot of insurance companies won’t pay a claim without a police report. I suppose some might argue that without this requirement, a crooked dealer could divert weapons and later claim they were stolen if there were any blowback. But again, requiring a theft report won’t prevent a crooked dealer from diverting the guns and then filing a police report stating they were stolen.
How does requiring one safety precaution (and somehow they’re never content to stop at just one, are they?) stop trafficking? Any honest businessman is going to do what he considers necessary to protect his stock. Making specific requirements does nothing to stop crooked dealers and harasses the honest ones.
Inspections by police allowed…what does that even mean? Throw away the Fourth Amendment and give cops carte blanche to come in and “inspect” at their whim? A law like this could easily be abused by anti-gun folks like Generalissimo -ahem- I mean Chief Knight of Chaska MN to drive a dealer out of business. Sorry about that Generalissimo crack, but seriously, this guy has four gold stars on each shoulder, scrambled eggs on his visor and he’s the Chief for a town of less than 25,000 (a town that had 4 murders and 20 robberies in the last 12 years).
Bulk Purchase Limits:
Here is another “reasonable” law that merely impedes legal gun owners rather than actually putting a dent in actual trafficking. Indeed, Virginia has a one-gun-a-month law but that doesn’t stop The New York Times from calling them part of the ‘Iron Pipeline’ of gun smuggling into New York State. In fact, according to The Times, two of the top five “crime gun” source states have one-a-month laws which they still call “the most effective tool” for preventing trafficking.
The antis say that the way things are now, traffickers can buy unlimited handguns in a single transaction and that this rule won’t affect the law abiding. They say no one ‘needs’ to buy more than one gun a month. Just off the top of my head I can come up with a time when, if I’d had the money, I would have needed to buy two pistols at once. I was at a gun show looking for a vest-pocket Mauser. I saw a dealer who had two, with consecutive serial numbers. He wasn’t willing to break the pair up (I don’t blame him) and if I’d had the money I would definitely have bought them.
Unless, of course, I’d been in a one-a-month state, in which case I probably would have passed on the purchase to avoid the PITA aspects. Aside from special circumstances like that, though, the antis will again ask “why would anyone need more than one gun a month?” But by letting the antis frame the argument that way we concede too much. The question should be “why shouldn’t I be able to buy what I want when I want it?” And the “gun trafficking” argument doesn’t stand up, because (again, see the NYT piece) two of the top five – forty percent – of the top “crime gun” supplier states had the one handgun a month laws.
- All Firearms
- Handguns Only
Again, what does retaining records have to do with stopping trafficking? It’s not going to prevent crooked dealers from dealing crookedly, it’s not going to stop straw buyers from buying, it’s just going to increase the time, effort and cost of legitimate dealers.
Crime Gun Identification:
- Ballistic fingerprinting
- Require microstamping on semi-auto handguns
Now here’s another beautiful idea in theory that crumbles to dust when it hits the cold hard wall of reality. In practice, New York State has had CoBIS (Combined Ballistic Identification System) up and running for 10 years now at a cost in excess of $4,000,000 a year. To date, the system has produced not one single conviction.
There have been exactly two hits in all that time; one was for a misdemeanor…and because of the backlog of entering data, the statute of limitations had run out by the time the match was made. The other hit was from a drive-by shooting that left one injured. Again, it took over a year to make the match. When police finally went to the owner’s house, he told them where the gun was. When they couldn’t find it, the owner said “it must have been stolen, I want to report a stolen gun.” Really, who wouldn’t think of that?
Officer Friendly: Knock-knock
Gun Trafficker: Yeah, hey dude what’s up?
OF: Sir we found a Glongfield XD-55 at a crime scene and traced it to you.
GT: Oh, yeah, sure dude, I keep it in my shed out back.
-trudge- -trudge- lock unlocks
OF: Sir this shed appears to be empty.
GT: Oh my stars and garters! I’ve been robbed! Well it’s a good thing you’re here Officer, I want to report some stolen guns.
OF: How many, what kind?
GT: Ummm, a bunch…there were some rifles and pistols and maybe a shotgun or two . . .
Repeat as necessary since no one can prove when the weapons were stolen and when GT found out about it.
The state of Maryland had a “ballistics fingerprinting” system, too, their MD-IBIS (Maryland Integrated Ballistics Identification System). It was generously credited by the Washington Post with solving a murder in the crabcake state. Unfortunately, while ballistics were crucial in obtaining the conviction, it wasn’t the MD-IBIS which made the match, rather a good old-fashioned Mark-1 eyeball (with an assist from a microscope). In fact, a Maryland State Police report detailed all of the problems with the system and recommended its termination.
If you’re still with me, I’ll hit the rest of the scorecard in part two. So much to debunk, and so few electrons….