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Guest post: Gun control realities and fallacies; is there a way forward?

Note: The following is a guest post, written by regular reader Peter in Houston. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but he makes some good and provocative points, and I’m a believer in having thorough discussions of complex issues, so I present this here for your consideration.

I have been a gun owner for the past 25 years. I live in a large metro area, and I own guns in defensive calibers for personal protection. I have had a State Concealed Handgun License for the past 14 years, and I do carry a firearm in public. I also enjoy casual target “plinking” with a .22LR pistol. Over a decade ago, I had the privilege of participating in an advanced tactical classes for civilians, where I learned a great deal about personal protection, and experienced a small sampling of what our police officers experience. We practiced topics like drawing from concealment while moving to cover, engaging multiple targets, shooting from awkward positions, shooting in low-light and no-light, and other defensive skills, firing hundreds of rounds in the process. Do you know how much your hand can hurt after firing hundreds of rounds? Ammo sitting in the summer Texas sun also gets very hot, ow ow. We donned body armor and went through live-fire scenarios with extremely low power paintball-type ammunition fired out of real handguns; we role-played simulated home invasions, convenience store robberies, clearing a home which has an invader hiding somewhere, and hand-to-hand combat. My most amusing moment was being gob-smacked with a Nerf bat. I was also “shot” in the chest out of spite after I gave up the money. These are my qualifications as an intermediate-to-advanced civilian gun owner.

You might think I would be the type of person who believes in no gun control, but I do believe there are areas where Federal guns laws can be improved. For one, I don’t see a compelling reason why the average gun owner needs more then ten rounds in their weapon. I myself carry an old-school five-shot revolver, Sgt. Joe Friday / Dragnet style.

Supposedly, just drawing a gun ends the violent encounter in most cases. When shots are fired, it’s usually decided after two or three shots. So I think five is OK, and I do carry one or two reloading strips for a total of ten or fifteen rounds, though these are very slow to deploy. So why would I settle for only five at a time? Revolvers are quite reliable; I have seen many people at the range struggle with semi-automatic jams. I would rather have five rounds with near 100% certainty than have to clear a jam after the first round. Plus, I like being different, and I like the retro aesthetic of a revolver.

Most pistols purpose-built for concealed carry have about a ten round capacity by design, because they are meant to be small. Therefore, why the uproar about a limit of ten? Because semi-automatic weapons are fast to reload, you can carry on an effective defense with ten round magazines. You just do a “tactical reload” during a lull in the fighting, so that you’re always full. Of course, it helps if the juvenile John Connor is your child, because he will be highly skilled in recharging empty magazines. In the movie Terminator 2, Sarah Connor was firing an eight round .45 pistol. I never hear .45 owners complaining that their pistols don’t hold enough ammo.

However… if someone simply must have a 20, 30, or 100 round magazine, let them have them; but we could change the law so that to get these magazines you have to possess a Federal Class III license. I would like to see existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members only; beyond that, they could only be transferred to a Class III licensee, or turned in to a buyback program. Class III licensure is quite stringent. If you get one, you can own a real machine gun. Machine gun as in Al Capone. That’s a high level of trust.

There is a problem in that Federal law allows private party sales. I think these should be outlawed, and all gun buyers should go through the National Instant Check System (NICS), with a few exceptions, for example, transfers amongst immediate family members should be allowed. Interfamilial transfers didn’t help Nancy Lanza, but I have the suspicion the “transfer” in her case was involuntary.

I am not an expert in this area, so I don’t know the exact details about how to get someone adjudicated so that they get into the NICS database as a bad actor, but maybe we need to look at how to make that process easier and faster.

To summarize my concrete suggestions for gun control that could make a difference over a span of years (not overnight), which I am positive the NRA would oppose:

  1. 10+ round magazine ban, except for Class III licensees; existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members
  2. Reform NICS to get more nutcases and bad actors into the database
  3. No more private sales or transfers, except between immediate family members

Now it’s my turn to rip into some of the ideas that merge from the gun control crowd. Gun control activists are purposefully very imprecise in their language and definitions concerning firearms; they want to create large, all-inclusive categories of guns, then they want the public to want them all gone.

First of all, let’s get something clear. The AR-15 used at Newtown, as destructive as it was, and as horrifying the results of its use were, is not an assault weapon. Assault weapons are fully automatic machine guns. The AR-15 is a “pull the trigger once / fire one round” semi-automatic gun. It is not a machine gun. It is not an automatic gun. Machines guns have been illegal since 1934, unless you have the aforementioned Class III license. But advocates want you to think it’s an assault weapon, because “assault weapon” performs well in focus groups.

The gun control advocates want you to hate the AR-15 so much that you will tell your Member of Congress to ban it! What really threatens gun owners is that the AR-15 is functionally no different from most other rifles in existence today. They may have cozy wood stocks rather than scary black stocks and pistol grips; but they are functionally the same, firing the same .223 caliber round, or an even bigger one.

Even the President says, “We must ban military-style assault rifles”. Wow, what a pile of obfuscations there. But once we ban a demonized class of guns, then their non military-styled cousins are also toast, because they are functionally identical.

This is a hard reality to speak about; yes, the wounds inflicted by the .223 bullet on children were horrific. But the reality is, there are much more powerful rifle rounds available; the .308, the .30-06. The political reality is this – the voices that claim “no private citizen should own a gun with as much power one used in Sandy Hook”, are really saying this:

NO PRIVATE CITIZEN SHOULD OWN ANY RIFLE!

Basically, the only rifle left after a hypothetical ban of .223 caliber above would be the little .22LR youth camp rifle. Gun owners aren’t stupid. The non-shooting public, the mass media, and some politicians get led around by the rhetoric and emotion, but it’s all painfully transparent to gun owners. They realize that calls for “sensible gun control” might really translate, after the legislative sausage is made in the back rooms, to near-total gun elimination. That’s why the public resistance to gun control is so profound, and why the public polling on guns hasn’t changed much since Sandy Hook (as reported on NPR, Dec 20, 2012).

What guns owners have seen the gun control activists do, which also makes us very concerned, is that they pivot from gun type to gun type. They know they can’t get everything banned in one fell swoop, so they try legislative incrementalism. “Sensible gun control” at one time meant “Ban Saturday Night Specials”. Remember Saturday Night Specials? “We need to ban Saturday Night Specials and other highly concealable guns which have no utility for target shooting or hunting, their only purpose is to kill people”. That was the mantra many years ago, when I went to college in 1979.

Well now, people are calling for the ban of exactly those firearms which do have utility for target shooting or hunting, rifles in .223 caliber and above. So which is it? Obviously, they want both banned. They want everything banned. The gun control advocates try to sound reasonable, and they spin it well, they try to demonize one type of gun or another at different times, and it’s different guns in different decades, too. A few years ago, they trial-ballooned that “shotguns are a weapon of mass destruction because they shoot dozens of projectiles simultaneously”. Oh gosh, so much worse than a machine gun even! That particular trial balloon sank, but it goes to show – they want everything banned. Rifles, shotguns, and handguns comprise all guns.

In the gun control world, “some guns are too big, some guns are too small, and really no guns are just right”.

I think there is a real though completely ironic parallel between gun control activists and pro-lifers. The pro-lifers don’t want abortion restricted; they want abortion illegal. If they can’t make it illegal, they will practice legislative incrementalism, and pass laws to harass women out of their minds, for example, to force the State to make trans-vaginal sonograms part of “pre-abortion counseling”. So it is with the gun control lobby. They want to stick it into the privates of gun owners. But we know it’s coming, and we say no. We can read between the lines; we’re not stupid.

Neither should the 80 million gun owners and ammunition users be taxed for the misdeeds of a very few. There are roughly 11,000 gun murders in the USA each year, but that means 99.98625% of gun owners didn’t do it; so don’t punitively tax gun and ammunition purchases. They shouldn’t be covered by “sin taxes”, because it’s in the Bill of Rights! How can an explicitly enumerated civil right be treated as a sin? That’s just illogical.

My assessment is that there is some room to make progress in refining and strengthening gun laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands, while protecting the rights of legal users, but the gun activist lobby will get the big eyes and overreach, they will try to get too much instead of what is possible and acceptable to the majority, and the GOP controlled House will kill any bills. And we’ll be stuck where we’ve been for decades.

It’s a mistake for gun control activists to think that gun owners are a dying breed, all old white men. I’m not an old white man. My nearest neighbor who shoots is a woman – who attended a Quaker college, of all things. Eighty million Americans own guns. That’s a huge number of people, who if they get directly threatened, will react by becoming politically active. And gun owners aren’t all Republicans.

By all means, let’s have a conversation about legislative firearms changes that are feasible and Constitutional, yet protect the core values of all stakeholders.

Speaking of the Constitution, SCOTUS has reaffirmed that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not only a collective right (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008). Look it up! It’s your Bill of Rights.

This is Charles again. My thanks to Peter for sending this. After receiving it, Harold Cook made a similar argument on his blog, which I recommend you read as well. Also, to address Peter’s point about terminology, I recommend MoJo’s A Non-Gun-Owner’s Guide To Guns. At the very least, we should all be clear on what it is we are and are not talking about.

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16 Comments

  1. matx says:

    Peter, I know of one gun advocacy group off the top of my head–the NRA. The NRA is the other side of the coin to the unnamed gun control activists you reference in your article. The rhetoric of both sides may be over the top, but naming some of the groups you refer to would be helpful and give weight to your argument.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your suggested changes, like universal background checks and a lower capacity magazine would go far toward lowering the deaths caused by mass shootings and even prevent some in the first place, which is really the most immediate goal everyone wishes to see met.

  2. PDiddie says:

    You were doing great until you got to this…

    The political reality is this – the voices that claim “no private citizen should own a gun with as much power one used in Sandy Hook”, are really saying this:

    NO PRIVATE CITIZEN SHOULD OWN ANY RIFLE!

    Epic fail.

  3. Michael says:

    Peter, I don’t see the conflict between an enumerated right and a taxable transaction. We have the right to free speech, but if you publish and sell a book or newspaper, you incur a sales tax debt.

    If you don’t like the idea of an ammo tax, you can make your own ammo.

    In addition, the Supreme Court clearly incorrectly decided the existence of an individual right, following the path of some seriously mendacious scholarship. My college roommate, who not teaches military history at West Point, provides this article demolishing that “scholarship”. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1995/sep/21/to-keep-and-bear-arms/?page=1

    Neither he nor I are fervently anti-gun, but the case needs to be built on the real history, not the fabricated one I use by Glenn Reynolds.

  4. Brad M. says:

    What purpose is there to “grandfather” in the right to transfer existing magazines to immediate family members?

    Your comment about eighty million gun users becoming politically active is directly threatened sounds a liltte weak…yawn. Yeah right…if one hundred and sixty million women get directly threatened to lose their reoproductive freedom they will all collectively rise up en masse. I just don’t see it. Only the most vocal will “rise up”.

    I am a strict constitutionalist so the answer is you can only bear arms that are muzzle loading muskets or double barrel dueling pistols. Easy, problem solved, all stakeholders protected. Move along now.

  5. Peter says:

    PDiddie – “Epic fail?” Out of curiosity, which caliber and type of rifle action would you advocate be considered as being acceptable and/or ideal for private ownership?

    Michael – Ammo taxes proposal would have extended to reloading components as well; you didn’t think there was a loophole, did you? When you buy ammo, you do pay sales tax. I bought some the other day, sales tax is on the receipt. A added punitive tax on a legal item is unjust. The Supreme Court is the law of the land, not the classroom of one professor.

    Brad M. – I propose grandfathering because I think it’s un-American to make people give up their “stuff” to be confiscated by the State… be it guns, books, or what have you. Magazines don’t last forever; they break, the springs fatigue. Let the current owners and their direct heirs enjoy their property without harassment, for as long as those items will function. BTW, I am sure you won’t mind giving up your access to the Internet, since the 18th century communications technology was the printing press. Internet not covered by the Bill of Rights; it was not explicitly named!

    Happy New Year, I will celebrate by going to the range and making some noise.

  6. Peter says:

    Please visit the Texas State Rifle Association (TSRA) booth at the Texas Democratic Convention in 2014.

  7. Doug says:

    I’d like to see gun owners held responsible for the damage caused by their guns. For every gun killing, the gun owner should be required to pay $1,000,000 to the estate of the victim. The gun owner should have to carry insurance to demonstrate the ability to make those payments, if necessary. Then, gun owners can get insurance to demonstrate the ability to fulfill the responsibilities of gun ownership.

    Insurance companies will likely charge more for more deadly weapons, and less for gun owners who demonstrate that they control their guns, but how exactly that happens is for the marketplace to work out.

    Also, it’s time we start recording the ballistic fingerprints of guns and putting tracers in bullets so that more gun-related crimes can be solved.

  8. Michael says:

    Peter,

    Without going in to Thomas Aquinas or Socrates, I don’t agree with your assertion that an ammo surtax is inherently unjust.

    When you buy gas, you pay a tax that is more than sales tax (but not high enough). It’s earmarked for the Highway Trust Fund. When you buy a carton of Marlboro Reds, you pay a cigarette tax that goes to defray the aggregate added health burden caused by smoking in general. When you go to a strip club in Houston, you pay a few bucks extra cover that is supposed to fund sexual assault prevention.

    Taxation is the way the people, through the government, fund things. It isn’t inherently unjust to tax something any more than it’s unjust to lend money at interest or engage in commerce for a profit.

    Why should ammo be exempt from the possibility of a tax, if that is how the people want to raise revenue to, for example, fund mental health care? I’ve suggested that before, at low levels (I’m not looking for Sen Moynihan’s 10,000% tax). Five or ten cents a round adds five or ten bucks to a brick of 100, but shouldn’t be an un undue burden on any recreational shooter, especially if we add an exception for rounds purchased at and expended at a gun range.

    How is this inherently not taxable? That’s how the system works.

  9. Peter says:

    I agree that we have to collect taxes to fund things. I just don’t want to see taxes collected the wrong way, so that the way people conduct their lives gets distorted.

    The only argument I’ve heard for ammo taxes is use the revenue to pay for the health and other costs related to mis-use of ammo. Yes, ~11,000 murders a year due to guns is awful, but with 80 million gun owners, that means 99.99% of gun owners did not use their ammo in a murderous manner… but they have to bear the burden for the 0.01% of gun owners that did?

    This is way different from a cigarette tax, where 100% of smokers get their health damaged by smoking. That’s not ever debated anymore. And 100% of gasoline buyers use the roads. That’s not up for debate.

    But why tax the 99.99% to clean up the messes of the 0.01%?

    Now, if an ammo tax were to go to something that would benefit the majority of gun owners, like free or very low cost safety training, subsidized locking devices, etc., then we’re talking about something.

  10. Peter says:

    More food for thought…

    Why can you buy an AR-15 with a 30 round magazine, legally carry a concealed pistol with a CHL, etc…

    But NO ONE except law enforcement can possess an automatic knife (switchblade) on his or her person?

    Isn’t that quite screwy?

  11. Michael says:

    Peter,

    First of all, how many rounds do you buy/fire per year? At the rates I’m suggesting, it would take one or two thousand rounds to cost you $100 a year ($8.33/month). I’m having trouble considering that an excessive tax burden.

    Now, why should you be burdened, even at this low level? You may be right that 99.99% of people who use ammo don’t burden the system by committing homicide, but we can’t seem to successfully identify which of you are the .01%

    If you have better criteria for determining who might use a gun to commit a crime, then we could act on that data. Right now, you’re in the at-risk pool. It’s not unjust to ask you to reduce the impact of the damage that you might do.

  12. Ross says:

    Michael, I know people who shoot 50,000+ rounds a year in pistol competitions, and others who shoot 15,000+ in rifle competition. Shotgun shooters also shoot tens of thousands of rounds per year. I used to shoot 5,000+ rounds a year in rifle competition. Shooting is expensive enough without paying a tax just to make some folks feel like “we’re doing something”.

  13. Peter says:

    50,000 rounds a year, wow. I was just thinking it would be burdensome to pay an additional tax on my puny 600 – 1200 rounds a year.

    You know what? Since the NRA would hate my ideas, and liberals hate my ideas, that means they’re actually worth something, and also they’ll never see the light of day legislatively.

  14. Peter says:

    Michael,

    Michael, step back from your writing and listen to your tone, man. The GOP is tone-deaf on diversity and Gay rights. Do you hear how tone-deaf YOU are on this issue?

    “Right now, you’re in the at-risk pool. It’s not unjust to ask you to reduce the impact of the damage that you might do.”

    I’m actually in an at-risk pool for diabetes. Are you going to ask me to take actions or pay fines / taxes to reduce the impact of the social costs of my possible future illness also?

    OMG, it’s like I’m halfway guilt of a heinous crime in your mind without having done a single thing illegal for my entire lifetime! Absolutely chilling. No presumption of innocense for gun owners! To hell with my civil liberties.

    I love your use of the Royal We, because there is a special pompous air in the way you use it here… “You may be right (*** NO I AM RIGHT**) that 99.99% of people who use ammo don’t burden the system by committing homicide, but WE can’t seem to successfully identify which of you are the .01%”

    Who the hell is “WE”, and who gave you power to imagine that you could through down the Constitution? When would you stop destroying the Bill of Rights?

    A burdensome tax on ammo, guns, licenses, registration, etc., could constitute “infringement”. Illegal per the Bill of Rights, reaffirmed in 2008 and 2010 as individual rights. Why is this not simple and clear to understand?

  15. I own several guns. I own multiple shot guns, rifles, and no pistols at this time however if I want to get another pistol I will buy one. I have no problem with background checks. Ammunition for my other guns is getting so expensive though I only practice shooting with my 22 rifle. I’m a Democrat. I have had two Class A ratings from the N.R. A. however when I ran for state representative. I received a postcard from the Texas State Rifle Association to vote for my opponent because he was a Republican, (that’s just my opinion.) I told the N.R.A. they wouldn’t get anymore of my money.

  16. Peter says:

    Ken Franks, I had a long talk a while back with Alice Tripp of TSRA, she said they don’t explicitly give preferences to Republicans, but as I recall the conversation, they do weight more heavily whether an incumbent has been in office and has actually voted in support of gun owners. So actual voting behavior may count more than a good questionnaire. It’s the “dance with them that brung ya” principle. Ask Alice at in person in 2014 at the State Democratic Convention, she should be there. I think it HURTS NRA that they are so explicitly GOP, but the Democratic Party is so left-radicalized in it’s power centers that most of them are reflexively for gun control, which is a mistake IMHO

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