There’s a lot of rhetoric coming from both sides, so I wanted to find out what was actually going on. It turns out that there’s really no good news for anyone.
The assault weapon ban being proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein is pretty much identical to the one signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. That law, which expired in 2004, forbade the manufacturing of certain types of weapons, as well as the manufacture of magazines that held over 10 rounds of ammunition. It also banned the import of those weapons and magazines from foreign sources. What it didn’t do is ban the possession or sale of existing weapons and magazines. It drove up prices, because you couldn’t get new product, but it did not mandate the collection of existing product. So I’m sorry, pundits on the right, but no one came to take away your guns then, and no one’s coming to take away your guns now.
However, there have also been many, many studies done comparing violent crimes before, during, and after the 1994 assault weapon ban took effect. The results show that the impact of the law on gun murders was negligible. The change was so small as to be statistically invalid. A ban on the manufacture of certain firearms and “high capacity” magazines doesn’t actually do anything worthwhile. It is nothing more than security theater akin to TSA screenings: it makes some people feel safer, but it ticks a lot of other people off, without making any quantifiable difference or solving any real problems. So I’m sorry, pundits on the left, but an assault weapon ban isn’t the answer.
The right shouldn’t be getting bent out of shape anyway, and the left shouldn’t be getting their hopes up, because the odds are that a new assault weapons ban isn’t going to be past Congress anyway. It would probably pass the Senate, and if it did make it to President Obama’s desk he’d sign it, but it will be easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to get this legislation passed in the House. Not just because there’s a republican majority there, but because there are a number of Democrats who don’t want to waste time on ineffective, feel-good legislation that will alienate of good portion of their base. It’s also not the sort of thing Obama can push through via Executive Order, either. There are limits to the powers of the President to make an end-run around the legislature.
So what do we do? Other things that are fairly simple. Appoint a director to the ATF, a spot that’s been vacant since after Ruby Ridge. Remove the roadblocks that have been thrown up preventing the enforcement of existing gun laws, so that people selling guns to felons and other people legally prohibited from having guns have a harder time getting them. The recent mass shooting here in Albuquerque involved weapons sold privately to a felon who wasn’t allowed to own guns, but no one is considering prosecution of the known seller. That would serve as an example, and a warning to others.
We also need better education and gun safety training, something the NRA can actually be incredibly helpful with. Responsible gun owners keep their guns locked up. Following the shooting in Newtown, I had to ask why the mother didn’t keep her gun collection and her ammunition in a gun safe, where her son with a history of mental problems wouldn’t have easy access. She could still take him out shooting, in a supervised setting, and she would still have access to her weapons for self-defense, but keep the key or the combination to the safe hidden. The shooting here in Albuquerque last weekend involved a “regular” rifle, an assault rifle, and two shotguns, apparently not locked up, in a house with a 15 year old, a 9 year old, a 5 year old, and a 2 year old. Lock it up! Don’t let the kids know the combination or where the key is hidden!
Here’s my personal pitch, which I’m sure some people will find fault with but I think will be effective and be more than a happy medium. I need a license to drive a car, because I need to prove that I know what I’m doing so there’s a reasonable certainty I won’t get on the road and kill someone. So why not make firearms training and certification a prerequisite for gun ownership? If you have a paranoid fear of the government having a massive database of gun owners, let the NRA and other organizations hold the information. The government certifies the local gun club or shooting range, and they in turn certify you. If you want to buy a gun or ammunition, you need to show your certification card. They can scan it like a credit card, checking your status against the certifying agency’s database the way a credit card verifies your available balance with the bank. No certification, no sale.
Hold on, I know that you’re saying that this still leaves guns in the hands of criminals. Yet it makes it a lot easier to separate the responsible gun owners from the outlaws, doesn’t it? It also makes it easier to enforce safety regulations. If your kid gets into your guns and shoots himself or someone else, and you don’t have a certification, you’re in serious trouble. It’s like being caught driving without a license — they impound you car, and in this case they impound your guns. Go get certified and you can pay your fine and get them back. If your kid gets into your guns and hurts someone, and you didn’t have them properly secured, well, you’re looking at a fine or jail time but, again, responsible gun owners have nothing to fear.
The only time the government gets access to your certification records is if you’re arrested for a gun crime. Then they either revoke your right to own a gun, as they already do for felons, or do something akin to applying points to your license. Don’t follow the rules, get dinged; get dinged too many times because you’re not acting responsibly, have your permit suspended or revoked and your firearms impounded.
Those are only a few ideas, and I’m a relative idiot; there have to be even better ideas out there being pitched by smarter people. My point is that there are ways to deal with gun violence without resorting to fear and rhetoric. We just need to get over ourselves and sooth our spastic colons long enough to have a genuine, serious, realistic discussion about it.