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The Weapons Limit

Having thought about Barack Obama’s gun plan, I’m still convinced that most of it is a non-issue: the government doing what it is supposed to do with background checks and enforcing laws. The only issue that is likely to be really contentious is the assault weapons ban (and related bans on high-capacity magazines).

I oppose the ban for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that I think it will be ineffective. There is little evidence that the previous ban or state-level bans accomplished much: crime fell before they were passed and continued to fall after they went. Criminals continued to acquire not just assault weapons but fully automatic weapons.

But I’ve also been thinking about a quote from P.J. O’Rourke Parliament of Whores. In talking about the crack epidemic, he spoke to a doctor on the front lines about what he’d do if were the drug czar. The doctor said he would make a big splash about something unrelated like assault weapons and wait for the problem to burn itself out. O’Rourke noted that this was exactly what William Bennett subsequently did.

Assault weapon bans — indeed gun controls in general — are and always have been a distraction. The real causes of crime — poverty, broken families, educational dysfunction, hell maybe even lead — are far more difficult to address and liberal solutions to these problems have usually proven ineffective. By contrast, assault weapons are easy to address and easy to rally liberals around. They sound sensible to people who don’t like guns in the first place. They make politicians feel like they’re “doing something” even when they’re not.

I also think the assault weapons ban is really a culture war issue in disguise. I recently flew out of Pittsburgh and sat next to a college student from Alabama who talked about guns and how much he liked his AK. We’ve had plenty of discussions in the comments about guns. It’s clear that many of the readers of this blog are comfortable with guns and are even enthusiasts. But that are others who are uncomfortable around guns of any type. And when you look at that way, it’s no different than someone trying to ban porn or whatever because they don’t like it. It’s cultural chauvinism masquerading as common sense.

Liberals often say that no one “needs” an AK-47. That’s irrelevant and I think the attempts of people to justify these weapons under hunting, sport or revolutionary grounds are misguided. Owning guns is a right; it is the government that must justify its restrictions, not we who must justify our ownership. There isn’t a “need” for trashy music. There isn’t a “need” for risque television shows. There isn’t a “need” for Justin Bieber. But we allow these things because we believe in free speech. Gun owners do not need to justify a “need” so that their benevolent government can grudingly let them bear arms.

As is always the case with cultural issues, I think these is best resolved at the state level. If Californians are uncomfortable with assault weapons, let them ban them. If Alabamans are happy with assault weapons, let them keep them. It’s ridiculous to try to impose a national standard of what guns we are and are not comfortable with.

But doesn’t an assault weapons ban violate the Second Amendment? I don’t think so. The American people have long recognized that the Second Amendment does not give an unlimited right to weapons. Machine guns are banned, explosives are banned, nuclear weapons are banned. SCOTUS has upheld this. The difference between tyranny in freedom is much larger than the difference between an AK-47 and a hunting rifle.

Moreover, if we’re worried about tyranny, I would say the Second Amendment is only one of our concerns. Conor Friersdorf made this point some time ago:

I think law-abiding Americans should always be allowed to own guns.

But if you’re a conservative gun owner who worries that gun control today could make tyranny easier to impose tomorrow, and you support warrantless spying, indefinite detention, and secret drone strikes on Americans accused of terrorism, what explains your seeming schizophrenia?

Think of it this way.

If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines… or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases… or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a miniscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP’s stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don’t involve guns?

I am very happy that people are passionate about the Second Amendment and eager to defend gun liberty. I just wish they brought that same passion to other infringements on our First, Fourth, Five and Sixth Amendment rights. Because if we pay attention to those, we will never need a “Second Amendment Solution”.

Ah, those dreaded words. It’s become fashionable on the Left lately to mock the idea of rebellion. They’ve been dismissive of the Second Amendment because, they argue, a revolution against a tyrannical government would be impossible given that the government has tanks and nukes. That sounds clever and it certainly is snide.

It’s also absurd. Our own military — the one with the tanks and nukes — has had a devil of a time with a bunch of guys with small arms and improvised explosives. I know the Left likes to pretend our wars ceased to exist once Obama was elected, but the shattered bodies and souls coming back speak otherwise.

Sheer numbers tells us that a revolution is possible, tanks be damned. There are 1.4 million active duty members of our military. Assuming they all turned on us, they would still be outnumbered by the legal gun owners of Kentucky. Every hunting season, my state of Pennsylvania fields one of the largest standings armies in the world to take out a bunch of deer (and with remarkably few accidents, I might add). The idea that the Second Amendment isn’t a bulwark against tyranny is absurd.

I don’t believe that our government will ever become truly tyrannical. I don’t think that a “Second Amendment Solution” will ever be necessary. At the same time, however, I don’t think we should be gambling our future on my optimism.

3 comments

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  1. AlexInCT says:

    When the next massacre happens, despite these “sensible” gun grab.., erm gun control measures, who/what are they going to blame?

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  2. Mississippi Yankee says:

    If Californians are uncomfortable with assault weapons, let them ban them. If Alabamans are happy with assault weapons, let them keep them. It’s ridiculous to try to impose a national standard of what guns we are and are not comfortable with.

    But Hal, just this past week it was pointed out that the federal principality of Washington DC had banned gun magazines larger that 10 rounds and required all gun owners there to register their weapons. But 91 of 105 people had been caught up traveling through DC with either a larger magazine or a legally owned gun that MPD choose to deem unregistered.
    Wouldn’t your solution just magnify the “stupid law” (your words) scenario?

    Machine guns are banned, explosives are banned, nuclear weapons are banned.

    Again Hal, the first two items on your list are false and the third is really a matter of semantics. I’ll bet your present employer has everything but the triggers to build a small nuclear device. And we’re not even talking about “dirty bombs”.

    With very few exceptions any law abiding gun owner can pay for the federal tax stamp and legally purchase a fully automatic gun. The background check is much stricter and the weapon IS federally registered. It can’t be given away, and can’t for the most part sold, OR inherited either. Yet many were grandfathered before 1987. But that’s an entire different story.

    As to explosives, farmers across America by ammonium-nitrate at the co-op or hardware store when ever they need to clear stumps from a field (it’s where T. Leary got the idea). It’s also not unusual to buy small quantities of dynamite and blasting caps for the same reason.

    Hal you strike me as a man that is not overly familiar with guns or rural living and there’s nothing wrong with that but when you make huge assumption or draw up grand schemes some egg is bound to land on your face.

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    But Hal, just this past week it was pointed out that the federal principality of Washington DC had banned gun magazines larger that 10 rounds and required all gun owners there to register their weapons. But 91 of 105 people had been caught up traveling through DC with either a larger magazine or a legally owned gun that MPD choose to deem unregistered.

    The Brian Aitken case was also in the news, especially because the New Jersey judge barred certain evidence from the jury. I’m familiar with this problem because whenever I moved over the last twenty years, I was always checking state laws to make sure I wasn’t in danger. The NRA, incidentally, is a very valuable resource on that.

    That patchwork of laws is going to exist no matter what. I don’t see that adding assault weapons to it — as indeed assault weapons already are in many states — make a big difference. What we really need is a clarification from the Feds and some SCOTUS precedent. I think the most important thing we need to put into the law — not just gun law, but every law — is mens rea. That is, you have to have intended to break the law not just get caught on a technicality because Highway 15 deviated through New Jersey for three miles.

    With very few exceptions any law abiding gun owner can pay for the federal tax stamp and legally purchase a fully automatic gun. The background check is much stricter and the weapon IS federally registered. It can’t be given away, and can’t for the most part sold, OR inherited either. Yet many were grandfathered before 1987. But that’s an entire different story.

    Bad phrasing on my part. I’m fairly familiar with the machine gun laws, actually. It’s kind of ironic that, if the left gets what they want, it will be easier to get a machine gun than an assault weapon.

    I seem to recall that the machine gun plan payed a big role in the Branch Davidian awfulness. Radley Balko made a great point the other night that people bashing the NRA for being anti-ATF have conveniently forgotten how the ATF, in the 90′s, put a lot of people in prison by tricking them into violating complex federal and state laws.

    I’m not familiar with rural living but I am reasonably familiar with guns. My grandfather had a farm and used a shotgun to kill raccoons. I used to go up there in summers and would occasionally shoot with my mom’s friend’s son. My dad owns about a dozen guns, has a conceal-carry and we’ve been shooting many times. I’m not an enthusiast, but I know which end to point at the bad guys. :)

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