I shamelessly stole this from William over at The Liberal Gun Club forums and made a few modifications.
He originally posted it as a letter he sent to Vice President Biden. I will probably send my cleaned up version along also.
The recent incidents in places as divergent as Colorado, Oregon and Connecticut have served to cause much grief and introspection. As is always the case with ideologically polarizing issues, the responses have generally tended to be loud and fall into all too familiar patters. On one side we have those who cry ‘They’re coming to take our guns!!!‘ and on the other there is a tendency to focus on the cosmetic features of the ‘scary looking black guns!!!‘ at the expense of not understanding what exists and can be regulated.
As a gun owner and the father of two children, I find this to be one of the most important issues of our day. I believe that change will come; now or later, the cats are out of the bag and we find ourselves attempting to herd them. How well they are herded in a direction that helps, rather than hurts our nation, will be our greatest task.
There are a number of conflicting issues:
- Some people fear all guns being banned.
- Some people fear any people having guns.
- Too many people being killed by guns. Suicide, homicide, accidents all add up to far too many lives.
- Bowers v. DeVito “…there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered.”
- District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago holding an individual’s right to self defense
- The “well regulated” language of the 2nd Amendment with historical understanding of it’s meaning by looking to how it was implemented via Militia Acts of 1792.
- The National Firearms Act of 1934’s success in regulating full automatic weapons (only a small number ever used in crimes since then).
Frankly these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consideration of the issues surrounding the appropriate regulation of firearms in America.
In the heat of the moment, it is easy to desire to ‘do something’. Such ‘somethings’, however well intentions, are rarely effective. The Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 was such a something and it was a complete and utter failure. By specifying specific models and listing a laundry list of things that were purely cosmetic in nature, it was easily circumvented. The sheer number of existing magazines ensured that the magazine ban was meaningless. The political capitol expended in passing the AWB was enormous, especially when one looks at it from the perspective of 2012, when it’s failure is all the more obvious.
So what can be done?
First, and most importantly, the word BAN must be forgotten. It is the word that many people have been taught to fear by those who prefer fear. You will never be able to ban anything. What can be done, and was successfully done in the aftermath of the Bank Robbery Era of the Depression, is regulation. Just as fully automatic firearms, short barreled firearms and other weapons were successfully registered under the National Firearms Act of 1934, so too can high capacity self loading firearms be regulated under an amendment to the NFA.
This, I believe, would give us much the same benefit as the NFA has provided the nation in regulating full automatic weapons while minimizing constitutional issues (self defense per the SCOTUS) and lowering the impact on the responsible gun owners.
This legislation would require the following elements:
- Create new class of regulated weapons: High Capacity Self Loading Firearms. Any center fire semi-automatic firearm, long gun, shotgun or hand gun, would be part of the class. The capacity of greater than 10 rounds in it’s OEM magazine would be the definition of high capacity. Cosmetics (flash hider, stock style, etc) are irrelevant and not mentioned in the legislation. If a firearm was originally designed for less than 10 rounds but can be used with larger magazines or modified to hold more than 10 rounds, it will need to be registered before the owner can either take possession of the higher capacity magazines or make the necessary modifications. Once registered the owner may own any magazines of any capacity that they wish to own. They do not need to register the firearm so long as they do not possess any high capacity magazines but if they do so without registration, it is a criminal penalty.
- Require registration and possession of valid tax stamp before firearm can be possessed. Registration is done by the same process as is currently used for Class III NFA firearms with the following exceptions:
- The tax must be kept minimal. A maximum of $50 is suggested.
- The Chief of Local Law Enforcement must be informed of purchase and must maintain database of purchases but can not veto purchase.
- The ATF must actively deny the purchase within 72 hours of receiving the application or the purchase is automatically approved.
- This class of NFA firearms can be possessed by any person 18 years of age or older who can pass the requirements for the class.
- 10 year grandfathered registration period for previously owned firearms. No tax is assessed until firearm is transferred. Possession of regulated firearms after that period would be subject to penalty and registration. No confiscation without other crime being involved would be permitted.
- All private transfers of the regulated firearms would be required to be conducted through an FFL holder.
- Private transfers of non-regulated firearms would not be required to be conducted through FFL but should be able to have the seller conduct a free NICS check on the buyer . The buyer must be able to present valid photo ID to the seller.
- All firearms owners must own some form of locking container for the weapons safe storage when not being used. Normal gun safes, as currently sold, with combination locks are sufficient but need to be required. All thefts must be reported to the police within 8 hours of discovery. In the case of weapons that are stolen because they were not locked up, or where the their theft was not reported the police and they are later used in criminal activities, the owner should be liable for criminal penalty.
- All high schools will be required to teach a mandatory firearms safety class of at least 40 class hours in length. It would be advisable that this course be rolled into the Hunter Safety classes that many states and schools already offer.
You will notice there is no mention of high capacity magazines, as such, in these proposals. To my eye, the magazines are a red herring. All the high capacity magazines in the world will do nothing without a rifle to use them. Combine this with the fact that there are just too many of them in existence. I don’t believe that regulating the magazines is anywhere near as important as regulating the rifles and pistols that use them. Once you have taken the time and effort to get a tax stamp for your pistol or rifle, you should be able to buy additional magazines as you do now. That’s true for current Class III as well and provides the legislative model.
Of course, this presupposes that there is sufficient political will to pass such an act; to accomplish something real rather than the feel good but worthless measures of the AWB of 1994.
If the current press for change fails, and realistically it’s 90% probable that it will fail, then the Democratic party needs to make it a centerpiece of campaigns to change the majority in the House in the 2014 mid-term election and to use the same level of Get Out The Vote as in the last general election. If that were able to be successful, then actions such as these would be possible.
We are at a crossroads in our history as a nation and as a culture. The last time we faced a challenge such as this one with regard to our nation’s gun culture we successfully responded with the National Firearms Act of 1934.
An amendment to that act, reflecting today’s reality is our best possible way to move forward in a way that recognizes our nation’s unique history and does not wrongfully obstruct the rights of those who wish to responsibly engage in the use of firearms for all legitimate uses – be that for sporting uses, hunting or the defense of their self or their loved ones.
Also related is this blog posting: Why Not Renew the “Assault Weapons” Ban? Well, I’ll Tell You…