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Monday, February 04, 2013

Something Short Of A Ban Might Be More Effective


An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sketched out a plan for post-Newtown legislation to the paper that includes a lot of stuff gun control advocates want — but left out the [assault weapons] ban.

“The bill would likely seek to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines; expand background checks to include sales at gun shows and other private transactions; and require better record keeping to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses,” the story said. “It would also try to curb gun sales in states with more relaxed gun laws to buyers in states with stricter laws.”

I will not be upset if the AWB isn't revived.  While it does appear that the original, weak law had some modest success which might've grown had there been no sunset provision, it's not entirely clear to me that's enough to justify treading heavily on the vague borders of gun ownership rights and reasonable limits.  

I'm certain a ban would pass constitutional muster, but without a really compelling set of data that shows it would have significant positive impact on our gun death epidemic, I'd be wary of implementing this right now.  That said, it's encouraging that Obama has instructed the CDC to study the public health risks posed by firearms, and maybe through that process we'll find more reason to place some form of ban on semi-auto weapons.

Limiting ammunition capacity is not much of a constitutional issue to me, though it probably would by itself have less value than if coupled with a ban.  This isn't an outright abolishment of ammunition, so doesn't place undue burden upon your possession of firearms.  It's simply a choking mechanism designed to provide a marginal edge for people in the line of fire.  

People will still be able to own weapons and carry plenty of ammo in the event of zombie hordes attacking, and yet it's also quite possible that this regulation could reduce carnage, as we saw the window of opportunity for stopping Jared Lougher, for example, was when he had to reload.  Contrast the latter to run-of-the-mill home invasion stories breathlessly told at last week's Senate Judiciary hearing: most bad guys who are not raving maniacs solely bent on destruction seem to retain a sense of self-preservation, and retreat in the face of any modest firepower effectively deployed, so you probably have time to switch mags and continue defending yourself.

And given the asymmetry of state gun laws, having Congress use its plenary power to regulate interstate commerce makes a lot of sense.  Beef up background checks on all sales, include residence information in the process, and you probably can further mitigate the problem of guns going where they shouldn't whilst allow legitimate sales to law-abiding citizens to proceed with little inconvenience.

If we do think as a society that "assault weapons" pose a problem that needs to be legislatively addressed (and polls indicate that's the case), I'd suggest taking one step back from a complete ban.  Why not simply extend NFA-style regulation to them?  Require registration as we do with machine guns, perhaps add stringent certification regarding safe storage and proper training, require liability insurance, something along those lines?  

There are about 500k automatic weapons in private hands right now, and we are not seeing any crimes being committed with them, let alone any massacres.  Maybe providing for heavier regulation short of banning in this manner at the Federal level would be as effective for semi-autos, too.  Then states could still experiment with outright bans if they saw fit (they would likely be permissible under Heller), which might provide us with more data to decide if they are helpful or not.

The question is for gun safety advocates: are you wedded to a particular approach, or are you willing to push for pragmatic, incremental steps that are more likely to be implemented and thus be more likely to help reduce gun violence?


[Adding: just got this alert from the NRA about the latest proposals here at home:

Rep. Waite-Simpson has a history of anti-gun activism and annually sponsors a “mandatory firearm storage bill” in Vermont that would force gun owners to lock up their firearms and render them useless for self-defense.

Locking up firearms does not render them useless.  SOP for a home invasion is to barricade yourself in a room with your weapons as you call for help.  So make a plan, like you would for getting out of your house in event of fire, put your gunsafe in the pre-determined location, and run there.  Balance that against the potential for theft (think of Adam Lanza's mother, and cases like this and this) and other tragic possibilities like kids getting a hold of weapons.  

Responsible, law-abiding owners should be doing this anyway, just like responsible, safe drivers should wear seatbelts, but sometimes you need to improve the numbers to improve everybody's safety through legislative encouragement.]

February 4, 2013 | Permalink


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