Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rational Gun Control

Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine says gun-control laws "disarm the law-abiding people, but they leave the criminals free to attack their victims who have no defense."

This is logic typical of people who are so committed to a point of view that they stray over the line into absurdity. Here in New York we have gun control laws for pistols (but not for long guns). It's not easy to get a permit - it costs money and it takes some time - but a law-abiding citizen can get one if they really want one, and then they can own a bunch of registered pistols. Law-abiding citizens are not "disarmed" by New York's tough gun control laws.

In this country the general populace is likely against any gun control law that would, in effect, "disarm" law-abiding citizens. They understand our history of gun ownership rights and our bias for personal freedom and responsibility over government's power to regulate us.

Even though fewer of us hunt or shoot targets nowadays, most people feel that these activities should be available to anyone who wishes to participate. I have a couple of 12-gauges that are used for just those purposes, and I don't think government should be concerned about them unless I start taking them, loaded, into public places. Or unless I start acting strangely, make threats, or are adjudged a hazard to myself or others. And this is where I believe most people draw the line. They want assurances that government is doing logical things to protect them from those who are likely to misuse guns.

I would be the first person to admit there is no such thing as perfect protection. We have laws that attempt to control drunk driving, but many drunks still kill with their cars. Citizens have not pushed for a ban on alcohol in order to stop this carnage, but they do support sanctions against drivers with a history of alcohol abuse as well as those who abet drunken driving by selling alcohol to inebriates who then drive. Similarly, citizens are likely to support laws that attempt to place similar sanctions on gun availability. They do not agree with Jacob Sullam's contention that gun control laws would be overly restrictive.

In my view, we need a baseline national gun control law that sets boundaries for gun acquisition and use, as well as penalties for those who break these laws. States and localities could then, based on their individual situations, impose more stringent rules if they wished. What might these laws include? Here's a few suggestions.

1. Convicted felons and those convicted of violent misdemeanors don't get access to guns of any kind and give up any weapons that they may already own.

2. People who have made suicide threats or are arrested for substance abuse don't get guns and lose any that they might have. Others who live in the same residence as these people must also surrender their weapons until the situation is resolved by mental health and law enforcement authorities.

3. Military-style weapons are banned outright. This would include assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols with large magazines. These weapons are just too dangerous to be in the hands of civilians, and they have no legitimate purpose that justifies their ownership.

4. Law enforcement is empowered to search individuals for concealed unregistered pistols without a warrant. In the city where I live, unregistered pistols kill many people and law enforcement is virtually powerless to go after those who possess them. If we have gun control, we must be able to enforce it.

5. Carrying an unregistered or concealed pistol without a "carry" permit results in an automatic felony conviction and mandatory prison sentence. However, the process for obtaining a "carry" permit should not be so onerous as to constitute a de facto ban on carrying. There are, in fact, rational arguments for allowing private citizens who are properly trained and screened to carry concealed weapons.

America is a democracy. It would be interesting to put these suggestions to a vote versus Mr. Sullam's position on unlimited gun rights. I think I know who would win this election. That's why Mr. Sullam and his friends spend all their time trying to keep the vote from taking place.


American Crusader said...

Suggestion number four not only violates the 2nd Amendment, but the 4th Amendment as well. What happens when searching for illegal weapons, they find evidence of some other illegal activity?

I can already hear your argument...they shouldn't have been doing anything illegal in the first-place.

I can't believe you don't see how easily the police could and would abuse this policy. Are there any other amendments you would like to see thrown out?

Let's get back to the 2nd Amendment. Its purpose is not so that citizens can go hunting, its purpose is to have a well armed citizenry...separate from the government.
You want to limit the exact weapons needed to maintain a well armed citizenry.
Madison himself wrote that a regular army that threatened liberty would find itself opposed by "a militia amounting to near a half a million citizens with arms in their hands."

Now I'd bet you're thinking that this is obsolete. How could irregulars, lightly armed stand up against a modern army?

Have you been to Iraq lately?

Dave said...

As you know this issue interests me.

Initially, like American Crusader, I was turned off by your fourth proposal. Warrantless search is not a good idea under almost any circumstance. But I really don't think your proposal is necessary given current Fourth Amendment cases in the Supreme Court. People in public have very little protection from police stopping and searching them based on "reasonable articulable suspicion."

The police do it now when people look "off."

Police can legally conduct "safety" roadblocks which allow them to look into cars and again with "RAS," search the cars and the people in them.

As to the rest of the proposals, I'd go further; but, given all of the things you say, the public wouldn't go for it. Your proposals, they might.

As to AC's thoughts on the Second Amendment, I'd refer him to the following post I did:

ThomasLB said...

I think guns should be treated like cars.

The vehicles are inspected for safety, registered, taxed, and must be insured. The drivers must pass a skills test, after which they are licensed, registered, and taxed.

Where I live it's harder to buy Sudafed than it is to buy a handgun.

If you give police warrantless search powers then that pretty much gives them free reign. Anytime they want to look in your pockets, they'll just shout "Gun check!" IMHO, the police need to be reigned in, not set loose.

Life Hiker said...

I knew I'd get some interesting comments on this post.

There are several points of view on the second amendment. However, since many states and localities, and even the federal government, have enacted rather strict controls over some types of guns without having those controls overruled by the Supreme Court, I would say the law of the land allows gun controls.

Also, my opinion is that "militia" is a totally outdated concept that may have had a place in a circa 1800 United States with hardly any standing army but has no meaning now. With respect to Iraq, the bad guys have only been successful killing unarmed civilians and have never won a battle against our troops.

But, if we really bought into the "militia" idea, then perhaps we should allow civilians the option of stockpiling rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, low yield atomic mines, and, of course, basement-based cruise missiles with larger hydrogen warheads. Any fight with our military should be a "fair fight" from the get-go. Glocks and AK-47's? fuggetaboutit.

The one area that I do have real trepidation about is the "search" problem. On the one hand, we got a lot of dingbats running around with heat under their shirt, and in this town they use it way too often to maintain their drug territories and do small time bank heists. They need to be controlled. On the other hand, we don't want the fuzz to confiscate our stash so they can smoke it. We don't want to be controlled. What to do?

At the end of the day, I suppose the search is the right answer. There's no use having a law forbidding a gun if the only time it comes into play is when there's a body on the ground. That's just a little too late for my taste. Maybe the law can exempt the stash or anything else found in a pure gun patdown.

If the Bush administration adopts American Crusader's version of the second amendment, I want first dibs on the atomic mines. I think they are very cool and effective.