Can Nancy And The Democrats Pass a Gun Law That Will Make A Difference?

Since I long ago gave up the idea that what I have to say about gun violence supports what my friends in Gun-control Nation want to hear, I’m going to spend today’s column taking some pot-shots at the single, most cherished goal of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, a.k.a., universal background checks.  Let me make it clear again that I have never (read: never) raised the slightest objection to reducing this awful social stain known as gun violence through, among other strategies, adopting public policies which work. But let me also make it clear that just because some piece of research finds a theoretical link between a certain public policy and an alleged outcome, doesn’t mean that the research isn’t flawed.

              That being said, it now turns out that Pelosi is telling the GVP that she intends to pass a ‘bold’ package of gun reforms right after the 116th Congress convenes.  She said this at a moving memorial service held in St. Mark’s Church, marking the anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, this event part of the month-long, national vigils against gun violence which you can support here.

The Numero Uno issue that Pelosi will doubtless try to pass is a law that would expand background checks beyond the initial point of sale.  Before I get into the research used to justify this policy, we need to spend a bit of time understanding what such a law would require in terms of how the infrastructure which supports the background check process would have to change. You can promote any public policy you want, but unless you figure out and implement the logistics required to make the policy actually achieve its goals, I mean, what’s the point?

The theory behind universal background checks (UBC) is that if every gun transfer required the recipient to fill out a 4473 form, then register the transfer registered with FBI-NICS, this process would keep guns from falling into the hands of individuals who, under law, cannot own or have access to a gun. Fine.

In addition to qualifying the behavior of everyone who would be receiving a gun, the process would also make it easier for law enforcement to figure out how a gun that was used illegally or inappropriately ended up in the ‘wrong’ hands. Also fine.

Now here’s where the details meet the devil, okay? First, we have absolutely no idea, and my friends in the gun-research community have never attempted to figure this out with any degree of accuracy, how many guns are floating around in the ‘wrong hands’ right now. Nor do we have any verifiable data on how many guns are stolen each year, thus adding to the arsenal of guns in the ‘wrong hands.’  If my friends in public health would spend a little more time trying to figure that one out and a little less time pretending that regression analyses using synthetic controls really tells us how a new gun-control law impacts gun violence rates, maybe, just maybe we could craft some kind of policy that would diminish the illegal flow of guns.

Since Sandy Hook, three states – Oregon, Washington, Colorado – have instituted UBC.  In 2014, these three states experienced a gun-violence rate of 11.37 (ICD-10 Codes: W32-W34, X72-X74, X93-X95, Y22-Y24.)  In 2016, the rate was 11.88.  Would anyone like to tell me the connection between UBC and a 4% gun-violence increase in these three states? We don’t have official 2017 data yet, but in Oregon they are referring to 2017 gun-violence rates representing a ‘modest spike.’  Great, just great.

If Speaker Pelosi and her GVP allies want to take a bold step forward in the fight against gun violence, I have a simple idea.  Why don’t they just craft a bill that would strictly regulate the manufacture, purchase and ownership of highly-lethal handguns?

Oh! We can’t do that!  It’s a violation of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights!’ In fact, it’s not a violation of any Constitutional ‘right’ at all. And yes, I will shortly be explaining this on my new Facebook page. Please stop by.

 

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Want To End Gun Violence? Get Rid Of The Stinkin’ Guns.

Now that the 116th Congress is going to convene in January with a solid blue House majority, and to the extent that this majority owes something to the hard work of my Gun-control Nation friends, perhaps it’s time to have a serious and deliberate discussion about the gun-control legislation that might begun to be put into place.

             After all, for the last eight years the gun-control gang could talk themselves blue in the face about assault rifle bans, comprehensive background checks and all that other good stuff. But the odds that any gun-control law might rear its head and emerge from Congress ranged from zero to zilch. Guess what? For the same reason that the blue Senate team slipped backward in 2018,  the GOP in 2020 will have a difficult time holding its majority in the Upper House. And anyone who wants to make book that Sleazy Don will be sitting in the Oval Office in 2021  better be willing to take very, very long odds.

Since it normally requires multiple Congressional sessions for a serious gun-control measure to get up to speed (the 1968 GCA68 law was initially introduced in 1953; the Brady bill that was passed in 1993 was first filed in 1991,) the folks who will be creating, pushing and sustaining the narrative for a new gun law better start working on it now.

The two legislative remedies for gun violence which appear to have the best chance of ending up in serious and positive floor votes are comprehensive background checks and a renewal of the assault weapons ban.  The former initiative appears to have support across the board, the latter could easily happen if a couple more nuts wander into a school, a shopping center, a house of worship or some other public venue and start blasting away.

The problem with both of these gun-control strategies, however, is that they don’t really get to the core of why we have a problem with gun violence and therefore, even if enacted, wouldn’t make that much of a difference in the rates of gun violence that we currently absorb.

The core problem is that the system that regulates the ownership and use of guns is fundamentally flawed because it is based on regulating the behavior of gun owners, rather than on the design and function of the guns themselves. If I walk into a gun shop today and but a rusted, old shotgun that probably doesn’t even work, I have to jump through the exact, same legal hoops that I would jump through if I bought a 16-shot Glock 19, along with 4 extra hi-capacity mags.  That old shotgun will only injure someone if I load it with modern ammunition, pull the trigger and the gun blows up. How many of the 125,000 gun injuries suffered last year resulted from someone using a Glock or another concealable, hi-powered handgun?  Most of those injuries, that’s for sure.

Again and again the discussion among gun-control advocates turns on the ‘fact’ that we own so many guns – somewhere between 300 and 400 million. But a majority of those guns are sporting rifles and shotguns which rarely show up in gun crimes at all. We are the only country which gives its residents relatively free access to handguns; we are the only country which suffers from an unacceptable level of gun violence. Want to end gun violence? Get rid of the guns that cause the violence.

Notice I didn’t state my approval for a handgun ban. But personally speaking, I have never supported an advocacy narrative simply because it might succeed.  I support advocacy that is rooted in truth. And the truth is that handguns cause gun violence. Period. End of story. End of debate.

Is The NRA Over The Hill?

Our friend Bob Spitzer has just published an interesting op-ed in The [‘failing’] New York Times, which not only goes into detail about how the gun issue impacted the outcome of various political races, but also raises the idea that maybe the vaunted invincibility of the NRA is coming to an end. In a careful and well-documented piece, Spitzer shows that the NRA was not only outspent in this election cycle by the gun-safety side, but also saw a number of House seats flip from red to blue in districts where gun-control messaging had previously been a dead end.

              I was pleased to review the latest edition of Spitzer’s book, The Politics of Gun Control, and I’m happy to give it a plug here as well. And while he makes it clear that he’s no advocate for Gun-nut Nation, both this book as well as the op-ed piece are balanced efforts to explain both the recent failures as well as previous successes of the NRA.  His basic point is that the election returns ‘suggest’ that the NRA may not possess the clout of former years, but this doesn’t mean that the boys in Fairfax are just going to shut up and fade away.

Not only is America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ not about to disappear (pardon the double negatives)  but anyone who thinks that the NRA can’t recapture its dominance in the gun debate doesn’t appreciate how or why the organization has been in the forefront for so long.

Looking first at the money:  Spitzer says that gun-control groups outspent the NRA by $12 million to $11 million in the mid-terms, largely due to the combined efforts of Gabby and Mike.  As of October 26, Open Secrets put the amounts at slightly less than $10 million and $8 million respectively, but either way, gun-safety groups come out ahead.

On the other hand, what counts going forward is the amount spent not just on political campaigns, but on day-to-day lobbying of elected officials. After all, when it comes to gun-control laws, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Over the last five years, gun-safety groups have spent a total of $8.6 million on Capitol Hill; lobbying for gun ‘rights’ during the same five-year period adds up to $60 million bucks! Even in 2018, the impoverished NRA has outspent Gun-control Nation’s lobbying efforts by almost ten to one – $10 million to $1.5 mil.

Can our friends at Everytown and the Giffords Law Center begin to match those numbers year after year?  I doubt it and my doubt is based on the NRA’s one basic strength which the gun-control groups simply do not share. This has to do with the fact that when all is said and done, at heart the NRA is a membership organization, and they have the care and feeding of their members down pat.

In addition to the NRA, I also belong to the Wilderness and Audubon Societies, along with AARP.  Like the NRA, I pay annual dues to these groups, monies which they use for lobbying and donating to political candidates who protect their interests and promote their views. Every year I receive a lovely calendar from Audubon and Wilderness, every month I get a magazine from AARP. That’s it.

I not only receive at least one email from Wayne-o and Chris Cox every day, I also get the monthly magazine and most important, I can meet other gun nuts at frequent NRA dinners and other social events, or attend hundreds of gun shows every weekend where the NRA has a hospitality booth right at the front door.

I’m happy that Gun-control Nation has begun to level the playing-field when it comes to the public debate about guns. But if my gun-control friends want to get the football across the gun-nut goal line, they have to understand it’s not just money that counts. People support the NRA because they like guns. Can the other side advance an argument as compelling as that?

 

 

Khal Spencer: Do we need a Human Reliability Program for (Certain Kinds of) Gun Ownership?

Barely have we gotten out of the news cycle of the Florida mail-bomber than an extremist, anti-Semite in Pittsburgh shot up a synagogue, killing eleven and injuring four police officers in a firefight before being captured. Robert Bowers apparently left a trail of evidence of his extreme views on social media (and hints of acting out) but unfortunately, the First Amendment protects most of this garbage, as well as social media’s right to act as a toxic mind pollutant to the American psyche.

businessBut all this has a price when one also has a stockpile of guns or bombs, as per Bowers and Cesar Sayoc. Perhaps we in the firearms community need to admit, belatedly, that the 2A has two clauses and the first one mandates that the people who universally populate the “well regulated militia” with arms in their hands need to be vetted to make sure they are pointing guns at legitimate adversaries rather than figments of their warped imaginations. How far should we go in the name of preventing these demented clowns from shooting up the nation? That, as usual, is the question.

Bowers apparently left a trail of hate on the Internet. Should we be monitoring the Internet and serving people who sound like they are about to go violently off the rails with Extreme Risk Protective Orders? Should owning certain classes of small arms be contingent on something like a Human Reliability Program? I think its clear that as long as anyone can procure a firearm easily, there is a clear statistical probability that some will go off the rails at other people’s expense and the more lethal the firearm, the more the expense. Especially nowadays with politicians, Russian troll farms, and social media activists pouring on political gasoline and handing out matches. What can go wrong?

One could imagine something like a violence triangle as we do a fire triangle. One needs motive, means, and a decision to act, i.e., a defective mental circuit breaker, to go batshit crazy and shoot up a mosque, synagogue, church, school, or whatever your personal choice of imaginary enemy happens to be on a given day. Means plus motive without the mental circuit breaker almost guarantees some “fires” will start. One can remove the means, albeit with some difficulty in a nation with a Second Amendment. One can try to eliminate motive, but in an age of toxic social media, gutter politics, and tribalism, its tough to do that. Mental circuit breakers seem to be in short supply. I was waiting in line for an Rx on Saturday and some other customer simply went off on the poor lady behind the counter, berating her loudly enough for the whole store to notice. Several of us were contemplating the possibility of having to tackle the guy if it got much worse but he stormed off.

So how about this? As Mike Weisser has said, some hunting rifles and shotguns (and probably certain kinds of handguns) are rarely implicated in crimes or mass shootings. How about we go lightly on these lower public risk firearms but examine those guns which seem to beckon for misuse and raise the standards for ownership of some firearms?

To be qualified for the job that I once held for fifteen years in a Federal lab, I had to undergo annual background screening, including a sit down with a company shrink, to ensure that the public and fellow workers could trust that I would not go off the rails at everyone else’s expense. Maybe its about time we designed a scaled down version of that sort of process for those who want to own high cap Glocks, ARs, and similar weaponry that can turn a synagogue into a charnel house in a few short minutes. I wouldn’t make it prohibitive or expensive, just clear and fair to the gun nuts and the public at large. With fewer mass shootings, such a system should pay for itself, actually, even if Matt DeLisi’s numbers are a little hard to believe.

Any takers?

 

Tom Gabor: Preventing Gun Violence Through Voluntary and Non-Governmental Initiatives.

Independent of efforts to change laws, it is worth considering non-governmental and voluntary measures and programs that can protect the public from gun violence.   Voluntary programs are those run by volunteers and/or those in which participation on the part of the public is voluntary rather than mandated by law.

rallyWith a group of committed volunteers, the support of local agencies, and perhaps some limited fund raising, these programs can be launched without delay and impose little or no burden on public agencies.  As they are voluntary and require no change in the law, they cannot be derailed by those who fight any proposed legislation designed to prevent gun injuries and deaths.  Voluntary, grassroots initiatives can also raise awareness of the benefits of safe practices and empower those who want to take action, no matter how modest, to make their communities safer.  Some measures require paid staff but still fall outside the public sector.

Here are some examples:

Securing Guns in the Home

Close to five million American children live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms.  Inadequately stored guns contribute to teenage suicides and violence, deadly accidents among children, and gun thefts.  School shooters often obtain their guns from their home or that of a relative.  There are no federal laws in the US requiring the safe storage of firearms and just one state, Massachusetts, requires all firearms to be stored with a lock in place.

In Broward County, Florida, attorney Barbara Markley and fellow members of the Gun Safety Committee of the League of Women Voters (LWV) have initiated Lock It Up, a program that is spreading rapidly.   League members learned that the Veterans Administration maintains a large inventory of trigger locks due to the elevated suicide risk of veterans.  The VA has donated thousands of locks to the LWV which is distributing them to a wide variety of agencies and professionals: law enforcement, municipalities, libraries, churches, pediatricians, family therapy and university clinics, and daycare centers.  They have also produced a brochure to raise awareness of the dangers of unlocked guns around children and teens.

 

Gun Buybacks

Gun buybacks allow people to turn in guns, usually to the police, for cash or gift cards with no questions asked.  They provide the public an opportunity to turn in weapons that are not being used, are possessed illegally, or that may be a danger to the household.  In some cases, hundreds of guns have been bought back.  Most initiatives involve law enforcement agencies, which receive the guns being turned in, and some partner with physicians and medical centers that can counsel gun owners about safety.  Evaluations of voluntary gun buybacks tend to show that they do not reduce gun violence as the number of guns turned in is just a small proportion of all guns in the community.  However, proponents argue that some violence or suicide may be prevented and that buybacks encourage people to consider the risks posed by guns in the home and enable people to adopt safer practices with firearms.  At a recent event in Hillsborough County, Florida, the Sheriff’s Office received 1,173 guns in five hours, including some stolen guns.  At a previous event in that county, 2,541 guns had been turned in.

 

Consumer and Investor Activism

Consumers can pressure stores to refrain from selling military-style and other highly lethal weapons through letter-writing campaigns, personal appeals to store managers and executives, social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, and boycotts.  Individuals and pension funds can also refuse to buy and divest from gun stocks or mutual funds containing gun stocks until those companies stop selling military-style weapons and start producing weapons with certain safety features (e.g., magazine safeties, loaded chamber indicators) and personalized (smart) weapons. Also, through their elected representatives, citizens can pressure the military and police to stop buying guns from companies that do not incorporate safety devices into guns.  Forty percent of all gun industry revenues come from governments.

Given the targeting of several campuses by mass shooters, some academics are demanding that their retirement funds be “gun free.”  In one initiative, over 4,000 faculty members threatened a firm managing their funds with the transfer of their money to gun-free funds if they continued to invest in companies that manufacture assault-style weapons.

Driven by outrage over the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and backed by some of America’s largest institutional investors, Sister Judy Byron of Seattle and a small group of shareholders have forced two gun makers, Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands, to produce reports detailing the use of their guns in violent crimes and what steps the companies are taking to develop safer weapons.  Although, the companies urged their shareholders to reject the proposals, a majority sided with the activists in both cases.

Byron persuaded the Adrian Dominicans, a Catholic religious institute, to buy gun stocks and organized other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility to join her, pooling their holdings in three companies: the retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods and the two above-mentioned manufacturers.  Following the Parkland shooting, large investors in the companies joined Byron’s effort which gave them the votes to pass the measures at Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands.   While the companies are not required to follow the resolutions to change their operations,   it is expected they will comply rather than risk shareholders’ anger.  Byron appealed to the companies to not only seek profitable returns for investors but also to mitigate the adverse impacts of their products.

 

Protest Actions

In the era of Donald Trump, protest actions have become common, ranging from countless  rallies to the occupation of government buildings and offices, with the largest nationwide protest occurring on March 24, 2018, when high school students led millions of Americans in the March for our Lives.  Evidence indicates that since the Parkland mass shooting enthusiasm has been growing for meaningful gun policy reforms.  Protests, media coverage, and activism following the Parkland shooting led to gun reforms in Florida and other states.     At Stanford University, 2500 doctors and nurses marched for action on gun violence, demanding more research and training to deal with the national crisis.

Supporting Victims of Abuse

Much gun violence and the majority of mass shootings have a domestic violence connection.  Many women killed with a gun are shot by a domestic partner.  Programs that empower women to take action if they are in an abusive relationship may keep the relationship from escalating to serious violence.  Especially dangerous is the post-separation period and the fear of violence often keeps women from exiting dangerous relationships.  Programs that offer victims shelter or support while they remain in their own homes can be empowering and help keep them safe.  For example, the REACH program in Massachusetts has an Emergency Shelter Program providing crisis intervention and support services for victims of domestic violence who are not safe in their own home.  Services include assistance with finding longer-term housing, support with legal issues, and access to other resources to help families heal physically and emotionally.  REACH’s Community-Based Advocacy Program offers a similar range of services to domestic violence survivors who do not want to leave an abusive relationship or who are not seeking shelter.  REACH can help with safety planning, finding a job or housing, or accessing benefits.  REACH is a charitable organization.

Public Education Initiatives

Educating the public about gun safety prevention can offer them tips on making their homes safer (e.g., securing guns with trigger locks or other locking devices) and the steps they need to take to protect their children when visiting the homes of gun owners.  Safety presentations, videos, written materials on gun violence and safety, and PSAs can shift public opinion, especially when done on a large scale.  One example is the League of Women Voters, an advocacy group run by volunteers that presents educational forums on gun safety, lobbies legislators, makes appearances on television and radio, and reaches out to the public in a variety of other ways.

Over the last three decades, the gun lobby has been successful in selling the idea that guns make us safer from violence.  Pew Research Center reports that, in 1993, just 34% of Americans said it was more important to protect gun rights than to control gun ownership but, by 2014, some of its polling showed that the number had climbed to 52%.  Recently, in the aftermath of large-scale mass shootings, opinion is shifting once again in favor of gun control.  Increasing grassroots activity, including educational efforts, on the part of groups favoring tighter regulation of guns may be a factor.

Mobilizing the Community

In many targeted school attacks, information was available regarding the shooter’s preparations.  The most notable case was that of Nikolas Cruz, the young man who committed the atrocity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Cruz was the subject of dozens of 9-1-1 calls to law enforcement and two separate tips to the FBI.  He came to the attention of the Florida Department of Children and Families.  He was well known in the community and in school for violent behavior, including threats made with guns and his desire to be a school shooter.

Many school shooters have a history of depression, suicide attempts or of suicidal thoughts.  In more than three-quarters of the school attacks studied by the Secret Service, at least one person—usually a friend, schoolmate, or sibling—had information that the attacker was contemplating or planning the attack, and, in the majority of cases, more than one person was aware of the impending attack. In addition, before nearly all the school attacks, the perpetrators exhibited behavior that caused others—school officials, parents, teachers, police, fellow students—to be concerned.  All of the above reinforces the need for schools and communities to set up mechanisms to encourage those with information of a possible attack to come forward.

 

It is a serious mistake to simply expel troubling kids.  Cruz and Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were loners who fell through the cracks of the mental health and educational systems.  Cruz was expelled for his troublesome behavior and was left to his own resources following the death of his mother.  Social isolation is a factor in many mass shootings and, whether it is a cause or effect of the disturbing behavior, it is in our collective interest to intervene and monitor the behavior of highly alienated individuals who exhibit threatening behavior.  Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by family members of victims of the mass shooting in Newtown, funds a program that helps students develop the social-emotional skills to reach out to other students and include those who may be chronically isolated in order to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness in school and the community.  The program is funded through charitable donations and products sold with the Sandy Hook Promise label on them.

Research on Gun Violence

Research is needed to gain a better understanding of guns in America, gun violence, and solutions that would prevent violence.  Basic questions remain unanswered due to Congress’ suppression of research at the behest of the gun lobby.  There are gaps in regulation as well as in the recordkeeping required when firearms are transferred.  Information is needed to determine the number of guns in America, the number of assault-style weapons, and how many guns are sold each year? What types of guns are most likely to be used in crime? Are there more gun deaths in areas with higher gun ownership levels? How many Americans own guns and are stricter gun laws and lower levels of gun ownership associated with fewer gun deaths?  What prevention and intervention strategies are most effective in reducing gun violence rates?  In addition, the National Violent Death Reporting System should be expanded to all states to provide comprehensive national data on gun violence.  Research is also needed to guide the assessment and identification of those at risk of violence and suicide.

 

Aside from the need for funding of government entities, such as The CDC, National

Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Justice, research can proceed through private sources (e.g., foundations) and independent researchers can conduct studies through self-funded initiatives.  Many resources are available free of charge through the internet.  Interviews, too, can be conducted with little cost via email or through the internet.

 

Voting for Change in Gun Policies

One of the easiest steps citizens can take to effect change is to vote.  Informed voters can support candidates who are committed to serious reforms in our laws.  There are indications that the electorate is quite enthusiastic regarding the gun issue, a departure from the past when it was largely gun owners who were focused on gun policy.  One useful tool to determine where candidates stand on guns is gunsensevoter.org.  At that site, the large grassroots group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, endorses candidates who support laws shown to be effective in combating gun violence.

Tom Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  He is grateful for the feedback of Barbara Markley, Gun Safety Chair of the League of Women Voters of Broward County, Florida.

 

 

 

Tom Gabor: Democrats and Republicans – Where Have They Stood on Gun Rights Versus Public Safety

I usually deliver a nonpartisan message but we are approaching the midterm elections and voters should be aware that the two parties have a very different record over the last 50 years.  When we look at major pieces of legislation passed at the federal level, the Democrats have supported laws designed to regulate guns to improve public safety and the Republicans have passed laws that have promoted the rights of gun owners, reduced oversight of the gun industry, impeded research on gun violence, and resisted gun regulation.  Let’s look at their records.

democratsGOP

The Democrats:

  • In 1968, after the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, signed into law The Gun Control Act of 1968. This comprehensive Act established categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms (many felons, mentally ill individuals, those dishonorably discharged from the military, fugitives, etc.).  The Act also mandated the licensing of those engaged in the business of selling firearms.

 

  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act. This law, as an interim measure, imposed a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm from a licensed dealer.  The Brady Law also mandated the instant background checks introduced in 1998 to determine whether buyers from a licensed dealer fall in a prohibited category.

 

  • In 1994, President Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic weapons defined as assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.

 

  • In 2013, following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barak Obama, a Democrat, in what he called “a pretty shameful day for Washington”, saw his proposals to expand criminal background checks to all gun sales, to ban certain assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines voted down by a Republican-controlled Senate.

 

One exception was Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, who, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed in 1972, inserted a provision exempting guns and ammunition from the agency’s oversight.  The CPSC regulates the safety of about 15,000 consumer items, from toys and hair dryers to mattresses and lawn mowers.  Rep. Dingell served on the board of the National Rifle Association.

 

The Republicans:

 

  • In 1986, President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. This Act strengthened the rights of gun owners and dealers by prohibiting the development of a gun registry, ending recordkeeping for ammunition, and limiting dealer inspections to one per year.

 

  • In 1996, Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, inserted an amendment into the Federal Government Omnibus Spending Bill which effectively prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from funding research on gun violence.  This amendment was a major priority for the NRA.

 

  • In 2004, the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired under the administration of President George W. Bush, a Republican.

 

  • In 2005, President Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Several cities had filed lawsuits against gun makers and dealers, claiming that their actions had compromised public health and created huge financial obligations for the municipalities.  The Act shields the industry from lawsuits relating to the use of firearms and ammunition, when “the product functioned as designed and intended.”  The PLCAA provides broad protection to companies in the gun industry that make unsafe products and engage in distribution practices that result in easy access by criminals. No other industry benefits from such protection.

Above, we see the factual record over the last half century.  On the major initiatives at least, there is a clear pattern.  Democrats support reasonable gun regulation, such as expanding background checks to all sales and banning assault-style weapons.  Republicans are more concerned about the rights of gun owners, protecting the gun industry from liability, and obscuring the role of guns in deaths and injuries by suppressing research on gun violence.

 

Tom Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.    

Will More Laws Reduce Gun Violence? Amnesty Thinks So.

Now that everyone is convinced that the Congress will turn blue in November and some degree of political sanity will be restored, the hopes of my friends in Gun-nut Nation that a more rational method can be found to reduce gun violence are once again rising to the fore. To bolster this belief (and maybe it will come true) everyone is now producing a report of some kind which promotes the idea that we need better laws and regulations in order to reduce the violence caused by guns.

amnesty1The latest entry into the ‘more laws equals less gun violence’ sweepstakes comes from Amnesty International, an organization whose anti-violence creds are above reproach.  When it comes to pushing for a more just and humane world, the folks at Amnesty are the real deal and nothing that I am going to say should in any way be taken to raise the slightest doubts about the value of their work, okay?

Be that as it may, their just-released report, In the Line of Fire – Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis, should be read by everyone, but also should be read with care. And the reason for my concern has nothing to do with their basic argument, i.e., that our failure to adopt a comprehensive, regulatory system to control guns is a fundamental violation of human rights. Rather, it is the degree to which the report promotes an unstinting belief in the idea that we can legislate our way out of the gun-violence mess. Which also happens to be the approach not only of all the major gun-control advocacy organizations, but also serves as the basis for most of the public health gun research upon which these organizations depend.

With all due respect, I don’t agree that new gun-control laws will necessarily change the situation at all. And the reason I don’t agree is that I have yet to read a single piece of research on gun violence which shows that after a new gun regulation is passed in a particular jurisdiction, that gun violence in that jurisdiction actually went down. Note the use of the word ‘actually.’  What this means is that one can make a definitive cause-and-effect connection between an event – a new gun regulation, and a trend – the gun-violence rate, over time.

I know all the studies which purport to prove that states with more restrictive gun laws experience less violence caused by guns. I also know all the studies which again purport to prove that when a state passes a permit process that allegedly slows down how quick it is to buy a gun, that impulsive gun suicides also go down.

These studies prove nothing of the sort.  They are counter-factual regression analyses using synthetic controls, which basically estimate that if a certain state had not passed a certain law, then the rate of gun violence affected by that law would have remained the same as the rate of gun violence in states that didn’t pass the same law. Know what happened in Colorado after the state passed a comprehensive background check in 2014?  The gun homicide rate didn’t go down, it went up – to the tune of 50 percent!

Before you accuse me of selling out to the pro-gun side, or trying to promote John Lott, or any of the other angry comments I invariably receive whenever I tell Gun-control Nation that maybe, just maybe, they don’t know all that much about guns, let me make myself very clear. I am not opposed to regulating or correcting any dangerous human behavior by passing and enforcing  proper laws. But I am opposed and won’t back down from the idea that you can’t say that a certain law will work just because you want it to work. Gun violence isn’t going away because all those law-abiding gun owners will obey another law.  After all, if you don’t own a gun, when was the last time you passed a background check?

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide on Major State Acts.

Original Content Posted at Ammo.com

The Second Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to bear arms, but both federaland state governments determine how citizens may legally exercise that right. And while both federal and state gun control laws regularly change, laws at the state level change more frequently and often without the media coverage that surrounds changes at the federal level.

ammo  This results in a constant challenge for gun owners to keep up with the latest state laws, especially for those who carry their weapons across state lines. Because while some states have more restrictions than others, state gun control policies across the country are diverse and can change quickly – too easily putting responsible gun owners on the wrong side of the law.

This guide is a timeline of major state gun control acts throughout the history of the United States – not only to help gun owners understand the state laws that have influenced our nation, but also to showcase how one state’s gun laws can set an example for others, creating a domino effect of gun control policy for the entire country.

Colonial America: Slavery Versus The Second Amendment

Pre-Constitution, the original Articles of Confederation established that “every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia.” The Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment holds that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” However, those rights were at that time granted specifically to white males.

Fear of slave and Native American uprisings prompted many colonial states to establish laws banning “free Mulattos, Negroes and Indians” from having firearms. By the antebellum period, southern states like South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and even Delaware all had various laws denying guns to people of color and allowing search and seizure of weapons as well as punishment without trial. Crucial to all of this was the Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Previously a slave, Dred Scott sued for freedom based on the fact that he’d lived in the free state of Illinois and a free area within the Louisiana Territory for a decade. When his suit was unsuccessful in Missouri, he appealed to the federal courts. The contention was whether “a free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves,” was a citizen with protections under the Constitution. The Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 denied “a free negro of the African race” citizenship – a milestone its issuer cited as “the most momentous event that has ever occurred on this continent,” excluding the Declaration of Independence. In that moment, those denied citizenship were also excluded from any of the rights associated with it.

After The Civil War: The Postbellum Era, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Black Codes

While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves, President Andrew Johnson’s failing leadership brought with it all the struggles of the Reconstruction Era. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision still denied people of African descent citizenship.

Former Confederate states enacted Black Codes to define and restrict freedmen’s positions within society. Along with mandating legal responsibilities, land ownership rights, contract labor wages and harsh criminal laws, nearly all the Black Codes effectively and pointedly banned “persons of color” – anyone “with more than one-eighth Negro blood” – from possessing firearms. Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Alabama, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee all enacted Black Codes, attempting to maintain the status quo and deny weapons to people of color.

The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments banned slavery, provided all citizens equal protection under the law and ensured voting rights for all citizens. The 14th Amendment was particularly important, as it defined citizenship as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” overturning the Dred Scott decision, establishing people of color as citizens and overriding state statutes denying them the right to possess firearms based on their heritage.

Jim Crow South: The Supreme Court Cedes Gun Control to the States

In the following decades, a second civil war ensued as freed slaves sought to embrace their citizenship and formed freedmen militias to protect black communities and maintain political footing. The Jim Crow South, however, was equally intent on keeping firearms out of the hands of black Americans. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded in 1866 as a “social club,” and the Knights of the White Camelia and the White Brotherhood quickly followed. These white supremacist groups swept the South, their foremost demand that freedmen surrender their firearms.

Despite attempts to pass a federal law making the specific seizure of firearms “without due process of law, by violence, intimidation, or threats” a felony, the language of the resulting Enforcement Acts was instead diluted to encompass obstructing civil rights, and the terror continued.

Tensions came to a head in 1873 in Louisiana, when armed white Democrats overpowered Republican freedmen militia at the Grant County Courthouse in what came to be known as the Colfax Massacre. Three whites died, but estimates indicate as many as 150 freedmen were killed – possibly more – most in the hours after they’d surrendered. Initially, three white men were prosecuted under the Enforcement Acts. But in 1876, the Supreme Court decision on the case – United States v. Kruikshank – dropped all charges, ruling that the power to protect citizens from private actions like those of the KKK resided with the states, not the federal government.

Southern states were quick to pass Saturday night special laws limiting handgun ownership through financial requirements that retained a racial bias. Tennessee had already enacted “An Act To Preserve the Peace and Prevent Homicide” in 1870, but simply reworked it for 1879’s “An Act to Prevent the Sale of Pistols.” It set the precedent by banning all handgun sales except expensive Army and Navy model handguns.

Arkansas followed in 1882 with an identical law, while in 1893, Alabama placed a heavy tax on handgun sales. In 1902, South Carolina limited handguns to law enforcement – often Klan members – while Mississippi followed a subtler path, requiring firearms dealers to maintain records available upon demand for handgun and handgun ammunition sales (with the intent to allow race-based confiscation). In 1907, Texas, like Alabama, decided to adopt a tax aimed at preventing both poor whites and blacks from being able to buy handguns.

Prohibition Era: Immigration, Organized Crime and Concealed Carry Laws

Concealed weapons of any kind have long been a controversial issue. As early as 1813, Kentucky law controlled concealed weapon carry, to include Bowie knives, sword canes and pocket pistols. Laws in Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee, for example, also retained language to control “how arms may be borne.” In 1897, the Supreme Court case Robertson v. Baldwin determined that laws controlling concealed carry did not violate the Second Amendment, stating “the right of the people to keep and bear arms (Art. II) is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.” Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court once again confirmed that ruling in Peruta v. County of San Diego.

The New York City of the early 1900s had no such laws, but was marked by European immigration, Tammany Hall, extensive organized crime and gun violence of all kinds. A newspaper article from the time cited the example of a grief-stricken Italian father fatally shooting the truck driver who’d accidentally run over his son. However, January 23, 1911, proved the tipping point when Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough used a concealed .32-caliber automatic pistol to assassinate novelist David Graham Phillips midday in Gramercy Park for an imagined slandering of his sister.

Supported by the Tammany Hall apparatus and effective August 31, 1911, the resulting Sullivan Act of 1911 mandated discretionary police-issued licenses to possess a handgun and made carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon a felony. While gun violence in fact escalated right into Prohibition, these two criteria formed the basis for many other states’ “may issue” gun laws requiring discretionary police-issued licenses to restrict gun ownership.

By 1987, only one state had unrestricted concealed carry – while eight were “shall issue,” 25 “may issue” and 16 “no issue.” In 2016, 10 states have unrestricted concealed carry, while 32 are “shall issue” and eight “may issue.” New York remains one of the few “may issue” states, and the Sullivan Act remains on the books as New York Penal Code Section 400.00 after more than a century.

Civil Rights Movement: The Black Panthers and Loaded Carry Laws

Ironically, the event that is ultimately credited as the cause of banned loaded carry took place in California without a single shot being fired. In 1960s America, civil rights issues were escalating. The assassinations of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965 left black communities fearful, and torn between peaceful resistance and self-defense “by whatever means necessary.” Abusive, racially motivated policing practices in Oakland, California, gave rise to the Black Panther Police Patrols and their mission to monitor and challenge that brutality. Since citizens were by law permitted open loaded carry of registered guns, the Black Panthers patrolled armed.

When a predominantly white jury ruled the police killing of Denzel Dowell a justifiable homicide, it was perhaps the last straw. The first issue of The Black Panther Black Community News Service on April 25, 1967, focused not only on the killing of Denzel Dowell, but also other police atrocities. It questioned how a previously injured Denzel could have fled a police officer who knew him well enough to call him by name, why he was shot 10 times, and why the newspaper announced the verdict two hours before the jury did. It also listed three other police murders of black men and two police-administered beatings of a black woman and a 14-year-old black girl.

Meanwhile, dubbed the Black Panther Bill, the Mulford Act sought to ban loaded carry specifically to end Black Panther armed patrols. However, on May 2, 1967, 30 Black Panthers – 24 men and six women armed with a written manifesto and loaded weapons – gathered on the California State Capitol steps and entered the building, their destination the General Assembly to protest the impending legislation. They were admitted only to the legislature’s official viewing area and then were asked to leave, but they left with their guns still loaded.

While the event remained nonviolent, cities across the nation were experiencing intense race riots. The California legislature fast-tracked the Mulford Act, and then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed it into law on July 28, 1967, as California Penal Codes 25850 and 142-181. It prohibited individuals from publicly carrying a loaded firearm on their person or in a vehicle in an incorporated city or other prohibited areas. The act authorized peace officers to examine any firearm to determine whether it was loaded and deemed any refusal to comply as probable cause for arrest. It also prohibited anyone but law enforcement from possessing loaded firearms or deadly weapons within the Capitol.

The Cold War and the Advent of “Assault Weapons”

The latter half of the 20th century brought with it global conflicts – Vietnam, Korea and Iraq – and assault rifles. The easily recognizable AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis became the weapons of choice for military forces around the globe, their characteristics highly desirable to firearms enthusiasts.

While the guns take a lighter caliber bullet and typically fire with less range and power than a rifle, they offer valued traits like folding stocks, pistol and forward grips, large-capacity removable magazines and the capability of switching firing modes. With time, semi-automatic rifles have appeared as many different makes and models, often surprisingly affordable. Most notable is that with each ban and limitation, semi-automatic rifles become more popular.

The 1989 Stockton Massacre and California’s AWCA Response

Out of all the states, California is recognized as having the most restrictive gun laws. One of the primary catalysts was the Cleveland Elementary School shooting on January 17, 1989, during which Patrick Purdy used an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle to spray a playground full of children, killing five and wounding 32 before killing himself. Despite former weapons and robbery offenses, Purdy had easily bought the assault weapon in Sandy, Oregon, and brought it across state lines to the Stockton, California, schoolyard.

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA), effective January 1, 1990, was California’s response and the first assault weapons act. It ultimately defined assault weapons within three categories, banned any transfer of the listed prohibited assault weapons, and required registration of any already in possession by the end of 1992. Any weapons not registered by that date were to be surrendered to law enforcement.

The 1993 101 Massacre and California’s Firearms Safety Act

Despite the legislation, on July 1, 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri entered the law firm of Pettit & Martin on 101 California Street in San Francisco to avenge his alleged loss of $300,000 in a land deal. Armed with two 9mm semi-automatic machine pistols, a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Ferri killed eight and injured six in a 16-minute rampage before killing himself.

While the event was the impetus for the 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 to 2004, in California, the effects have lasted much longer. Seeking to end gun manufacturer workarounds like changing model numbers, the state amended the Roberti-Roos Act’s assault weapons categories in 1999 by banning the manufacture, import or sale of semi-automatic rifles or pistols with certain characteristics as well as the transfer of magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, effective January 1, 2000.

That same year, California limited handgun purchases to one during any 30-day period; Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have similar laws. It also passed the Aroner-Scott-Hayden Firearms Safety Act of 1999 to require child-safety locks on all guns, set handgun safety standards that dealers must meet, and repealed the immunity previously protecting gun manufacturers from victim lawsuits.

The 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre and New York’s SAFE Act

Reminiscent of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, appalled the nation as an armed gunman once again took out his rage on school children. Adam Lanza killed his mother at home and then fatally shot 20 children and six staff members at the school before killing himself. He was armed with his mother’s AR-15 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and two of her handguns – a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

On January 16, 2013, New York became the first U.S. state to act after the shooting when its legislature passed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act. It required universal background checks for all firearms purchases, expanded its definitions of assault weapons, created a state database for handguns, and banned the sale or purchase of magazines that could hold more than seven rounds of ammunition.

On April 4, 2013, Connecticut and Maryland both enacted new restrictions to their existing gun laws: An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety and the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, respectively. Connecticut, too, required universal background checks for firearms purchases and banned magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Maryland banned assault weapons and magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The 2012 Aurora Massacre and Colorado’s Response

On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes fired into an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing of The Dark Knight Rises premier, killing 12 and injuring 70 amid tear gas from grenades he’d launched. He was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 semi-automatic rifle fitted with a 100-round magazine, and a .40-caliber Glock. Holmes had bought all three guns legally between May 22 and July 6, from three different firearms stores – two Gander Mountains and One Bass Pro Shop.

Following other states’ earlier actions, on March 20, 2013, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper also signed into law three bills to prevent another mass shooting event. HB 13-1224 banned large-capacity magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. HB 13-1229 required universal background checks for all firearms sales, and HB 13-1228 directed that applicants pay for the cost of the checks.

2013: 10 New California Gun Control Laws

Also in 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 10 more different firearms-related bills:

  • AB-500 Firearms: DOJ checks.
  • AB-48 Firearms: Large-capacity magazines.
  • SB-683 Firearms: Firearm safety certificate.
  • SB-140 Firearms: Prohibited persons.
  • AB-1131 Firearms: Mental conditions.
  • SB-127 Firearms: Mentally disordered persons.
  • AB-231 Firearms: Criminal storage.
  • SB-363 Firearms: Criminal storage: Unsafe handguns: Fees.
  • AB-170 Assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles.
  • AB-539 Firearm possession: Prohibitions: Transfer to licensed dealer.

These bills extended weapon transfer waiting periods, added storage safety conditions and strengthened storage negligence laws, banned conversion kits for large-capacity magazines, required safety certificates for long guns, extended mental health-related prohibitions for firearms from six months to five years, made assault weapon permits individual-issue only, and prohibited individuals denied firearms from storing them with dealers.

SB-140 also appropriated $24 million to the Department of Justice to address the backlog in the Prohibited Armed Persons File database tracking more than 20,000 individuals prohibited from owning firearms.

2016: California’s “Gunpocalypse”

As 2015 drew to a close and the holidays approached, the tragic San Bernardino shooting stunned California residents and the nation. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 more at a Christmas party thrown by Farook’s employer at the Inland Regional Center on December 2.

Farook and Malik were armed with two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles – a DPMS A-15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P15 – two 9mm semi-automatic pistols, at least four high-capacity magazines, well over a thousand rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb. The incident ended with the homegrown terrorists’ sworn loyalty to ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a police vehicle chase, and a final shootout that left both perpetrators dead.

While Farook had legally purchased his handguns, another individual, Enrique Marquez, had purchased the rifles legally in 2011 and 2012, as Farook had reportedly feared he wouldn’t pass the background check needed for them.

The two rifles, however, were altered after the purchase in flat violation of California law: the Smith & Wesson for automatic fire and the DPMS to accept large-capacity magazines. Investigation of the couple’s home yielded a stockpile of another 4,500 rounds of ammunition, a dozen pipe bombs, and tools for making them.

Almost immediately, California assemblymen and senators introduced a packet of legislation. On July 1, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed six new gun control bills into state law, each seeking to close a firearms loophole: Assembly Bills 1695, 1511 and 1135 as well as Senate Bills 880, 1446 and 1235.

AB 1695

AB 1695, also known as “The Stop Illegal Gun Sales Act,” was an effort to stop the practices of “straw purchasers” – individuals able to pass background checks who procure guns for ineligible individuals, then report the firearms as lost or stolen to avoid accountability.

California’s penal code already listed falsely reporting to a member of law enforcement as a misdemeanor or felony. However, the bill specifically makes falsely reporting a firearm as lost or stolen a misdemeanor and imposes a 10-year ban on firearm ownership for those convicted of the offense. Violation of the 10-year period carries up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.

AB 1511

While the vast majority of firearms loaned from one person to another must go through a licensed dealer under AB 1511, prior to this bill Californians could lend a firearm to individuals they knew personally for infrequent periods of less than 30 days. The new bill has the same loan period limitations, but it restricts the lending of firearms to “a spouse or registered domestic partner, or to a parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild” related by “consanguinity, adoption, or steprelation.”

SB 880 & AB 1135

California passed two bills, SB 880 and AB 1135, that are substantively the same with minor wording differences like “specified attributes” as opposed to “several specified attributes.” Essentially, the new law closes the bullet button loophole. First, it redefines a “fixed magazine” as “an ammunition feeding device” that “cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.” Then, it extends the definition of assault weapons banned to any “semiautomatic centerfire rifle or a semiautomatic pistol that does not have a fixed magazine,” and has at least one of the previously established assault weapon attributes – such as a thumbhole stock for rifles or a second handgrip for handguns.

Much like previous legislation, the law prohibits the sale or transfer of assault weapons lacking a fixed magazine and mandates that all weapons already in possession up to and including December 31, 2016, must be registered with DOJ by January 1, 2018, for up to a $20 fee. Violation of the law is a felony punishable by up to one year in jail.

SB 1446

While the previous law prohibited the sale, gift or loan of large-capacity magazines, SB 1446 bans them altogether. Any manufacture, sale, transfer, gift or loan of a magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds is punishable by up to a year in jail. Possession of a large-capacity magazine entails a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third.

In addition, regardless of when the magazine was purchased, the owner cannot keep it in California. The magazine must be moved out of state, sold to a licensed dealer, destroyed or surrendered to law enforcement.

SB 1235

An interim and supersession measure prior to voter adoption of the Safety for All Act of 2016, SB 1235 is legislation to control all ammunition through an Automated Firearms System. Starting July 1, 2019, all sales and transfers of ammunition will be subject to checks of the purchaser’s presented identification against the Prohibited Armed Persons File as well as the Automated Firearms System, and must be reported to the Attorney General.

The legislation also requires, with some sporting club exceptions, a vendor license for all ammunition sales. Prior to this, controls – including mandatory face-to-face transactions – had been limited to handgun ammunition. However, handgun ammunition was changed to ammunition, and ammunition was redefined to be all-inclusive with “one or more loaded cartridges consisting of a primer case, propellant, and with one or more projectiles.” Any person or business who transfers ammunition to someone ineligible to receive it is subject to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.

Vetoed Bills

Governor Brown did, however, veto four submitted bills:

  • AB 2607 would have expanded the pool of individuals able to petition for a gun violence restraining order.
  • AB 1674 would have applied the 30-day handgun delivery limit to all firearms.
  • AB 1673 would have redefined firearm as any “frame or receiver blank, casting, or machined body” clearly part of a functional weapon.
  • SB 894 would have tightened reporting regulations for lost or stolen firearms.

The Second Amendment Stands Strong

Since 2013, successful federal gun legislation has been limited to the renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act, and states have taken note. While more restrictive states have continued to identify and attempt to close every loophole, many others have instead passed laws to strengthen the Second Amendment.

In 2015, the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence tracked “1,323 bills related to firearms in the states.” Many of these laws related to hotbed social issues of today: domestic violence, background checks, guns in schools and on campuses, and concealed carry.

Domestic terrorism is another serious concern driving the debate about gun control. If history is any guide, attacks by “homegrown” terrorists will lead to stricter gun control measures as legislators try to calm the nation’s outrage and sense of vulnerability with more laws – despite terrorists already breaking existing laws.

The challenge for lawmakers at all levels is to ensure that rational wisdom prevails over emotion. We can close every loophole. We can regulate and litigate. But ultimately, unbalanced malcontents or violent terrorists may still win simply because they don’t play by any rules. And even the most well-intentioned laws may have unintended consequences.

Meanwhile, the Second Amendment, crafted by America’s Founding Fathers, stands quiet and powerful, with 27 simple words worthy of defining billions of others in our nation’s Supreme Court:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

 

Gun Control in America: A Guide to Major Federal Acts.

Original Content Posted Here at Ammo.com.

For Americans, the crux of gun control laws has been how to disarm dangerous individuals without disarming the public at large. Ever-present in this quest is the question of how the perception of danger should impact guaranteed freedoms protected within the Bill of Rights.

Not only is such a balancing act difficult as-is, but there are also two additional factors that make it even more challenging: America’s federal government is constitutionally bound by the Second Amendment, and politicians notoriously take advantage of tragedies to pass irrational laws when emotions are at their highest. As President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, once famously remarked:

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”1

This line of thought is not new to American politics. From the emancipation of enslaved Americans and the organized crime wave of the 1930s to the assassinations of prominent leaders in the 1960s and the attempted assassination of President Reagan in the 1980s, fear has proved a powerful catalyst for appeals about gun control.

Below is an overview of the history behind major federal gun control legislation, capturing how we’ve gone from the Founding Fathers’ America of the New World to the United States of the 21st century.

Second Amendment in America’s Bill of Rights
First and Second Militia Acts of 1792
Colonial Gun Regulations
Militia Act of 1862
Fourteenth Amendment
National Rifle Association
National Firearms Act of 1934
Federal Firearms Act of 1938
Gun Control Act of 1968
Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986
Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993
Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994
Supreme Court Case District of Columbia et al. v. Heller
Supreme Court Case McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago
The Rights of an American Citizen

Second Amendment in America’s Bill of Rights: Ratified December 15, 1791

Congress added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States specifically “to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” The Second Amendment is the foundational cornerstone of every American’s right to bear arms, stating:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The right to bear arms was second only to the first – the most vital freedoms of religion, speech, the press, the right to assemble and the right to petition government for redress of grievances. Meanwhile, conflicting views have left government and personal interest groups struggling to reconcile technological advances, isolated but significant violent anomalies and the constitutional mandate protecting the natural right to self defense and this most basic aspect of the Bill of Rights.

First and Second Militia Acts of 1792: Passed May 2 and 8, 1792

The U.S. Congress passed the Militia Acts of 1792 less than a year after the Second Amendment’s ratification. The first act’s purpose was “to provide for the National Defence, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States.” This measure established the need and command structure for a state-based militia. The second act defined conscription parameters for those militias, limiting armed service to “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” 18 to 45.

Colonial Gun Regulations

Even today, the majority of firearms laws are state-based and vary considerably. While California, Connecticut and New Jersey have the most restrictive laws, Arizona, Vermont and Kentucky have some of the least stringent. For more than a century, the young United States relied primarily on “state” laws:

  • The earliest came from Virginia, the result of fear of attack by Native Americans. The 1619 law imposed a three-shilling fine on able-bodied men who failed to come armed to church on the Sabbath.
  • By 1640, slave codes in Virginia prohibited all “free Mulattos, Negroes and Indians” from bearing arms. In 1712, South Carolina enacted a similar law.
  • Throughout the Antebellum South, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and even Delaware all passed multiple measures denying guns to people of color, requiring court-issued permits, and allowing search and seizure of weapons as well as punishment without trial.

Militia Act of 1862: Passed July 17, 1862

Often overlooked, the Militia Act of 1862 was highly significant because for the first time, a U.S. government in wartime need called upon “persons of African descent” for military or naval service. Granted, the soldiers were paid less than their white compatriots and were at first primarily laborers. However, the act guaranteed freedom for soldiers and their families in exchange for service. By late October, black Union regiments raised from Kansas, Louisiana and the South Carolina Sea Islands were in the field. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and in May of that year, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops, which would represent nearly 185,000 soldiers during the Civil War.

Fourteenth Amendment: Ratified July 9, 1868

Even as 1863’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves within the United States, racially biased gun control continued through Black Codes in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Internationally, the Paris Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867 condemned the practices, highlighting that in “the States,” even “freedmen” were “forbidden to own or bear fire-arms, and thus were rendered defenceless against assault.” Congress abolished this discriminatory gun control with the most controversial of the three Reconstruction Amendments. While the Thirteenth abolished slavery and the 15th forbade racial discrimination in elections, the Fourteenth Amendment provided “to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Finally, the Fourteenth guaranteed all Americans, regardless of color or appearance, their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

National Rifle Association: Founded November 17, 1871

Originally founded to improve the marksmanship and firearms skills found lacking in troops during the Civil War, the National Rifle Association(NRA) sought to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” Since then, it has become a complex organization, with its own Legislative Affairs Division, Institute for Legislative Action, Political Victory Fund and NRA Foundation as well as numerous publications.

As “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization,” the NRA is a “diligent [protector] of the Second Amendment.” It actively supported the National Firearms Act of 1934 and Federal Firearms Act of 1938, supported portions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and was instrumental to the Firearms Owners Protection Act. It opposed renewal of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and backed 2005’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Actand 2006’s Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act, which became part of 2007’s Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act. In 2013, it opposed expansion of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. The NRA has also been an active protector of the Second Amendment in numerous legal cases involving gun owners’ rights, including 2010’s landmark Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago.

National Firearms Act of 1934: Signed Into Law June 26, 1934

Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Firearms Act, Public Law 73-474, sought to control specifically the types of weapons typically involved in organized crime and violent gangland incidents: automatic weapons like machine guns and easily concealed but wide-impact, short-barrel firearms, such as sawed-off shotguns, as well as mufflers and silencers. Rather than banning them, the act instead placed a financial premium on them and allowed tracking of them by requiring that:

  • Importers, manufacturers and dealers register and pay an annual tax: $500 for importers and manufacturers, $300 for pawnbrokers and $200 for dealers.
  • Transferors pay a $200 tax per transaction.
  • Intended recipients complete an application and submit identification, including fingerprints and a photograph.
  • Importers, manufacturers and dealers maintain records of all transactions.
  • All transfers as well as all previously owned firearms be registered, including the firearm’s identifying marks; the owner’s name, address and place of employment; and where the gun was to be kept.
  • Any violation of the act be subject to a $2,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

The National Firearms Act has not been updated since, and importers, manufacturers, dealers and buyers still pay the same fees. Accounting for inflation, the $200 transaction tax would now be the equivalent of more than $3,500, and the $2,000 fine would be more than $35,000.

Federal Firearms Act of 1938: Signed Into Law June 30, 1938

The 1930s were tumultuous years. FDR’s New Deal was rebuilding a struggling America in the face of a well-armed wave of organized crime. John Dillinger was one of the most infamous criminals of the era who used not only machine guns, but other assorted weapons on a crime spree that spanned eight states. Between 1933 and 1934, John Dillinger and his so-called Terror Gang robbed a dozen banks, stole more than $500,000, nearly $9 million in 2016 dollars, killed 11 people and managed to escape from prison on three separate occasions. The crime spree finally ended on June 30, 1934, when federal agents tracked Dillinger to a movie theater in Chicago. Dillinger drew his Colt .380 in an attempt to escape and was cut down by a hail of gunfire from law enforcement. On the fourth anniversary of Dillinger’s death, Congress passed Public Law 75-785, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, which expanded recordkeeping and accountability for all firearms importers, manufacturers and dealers and placed restrictions on gun ownership. It expressly aimed to regulate interstate and foreign commerce in arms and encompassed not only the guns themselves, but also any silencers or mufflers, ammunition, cartridge cases, bullets and propellant powder. It stated that:

  • Only dealers or manufacturers possessing a license could transport, ship or receive firearms or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce. The license was $25 per manufacturer and $1 for dealers.
  • Dealers and manufacturers could not ship or transport firearms to anyone under indictment, convicted of a crime or considered a fugitive from justice.
  • Trade in stolen firearms or guns that have had the manufacturer’s serial numbers removed was illegal.

Gun Control Act of 1968: Signed Into Law October 22, 1968

Three decades passed. Then, over five years, four major assassinations took their toll: President John F. Kennedy; racial activists Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. As for the assassins, Lee Harvey Oswald had purchased his rifle through a popular mail order company under an alias, Talmadge Hayer had a criminal history of stolen guns, James Earl Ray was an escaped convict, and Sirhan Sirhan had purchased his unregistered handgun from a private individual. The response was a major overhaul of restrictions on how guns could be bought and sold.

Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Gun Control Act of 1968, or Public Law 90-618, soon became known as Title I, repealing the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 and relegating the National Firearms Act of 1934 to Title II. Its stated purpose was “to provide support to Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence.” To that end, it:

  • Mandated licensing for all importers, manufacturers and dealers of firearms and ammunition involved in interstate or foreign arms commerce, and set license fees for “destructive devices” at $1,000 a year.
  • Prohibited using falsified information to acquire a firearm.
  • Set the general purchase age for handguns and handgun ammunition at 21.
  • Prohibited dealers and manufacturers from selling firearms to indicted or convicted individuals, fugitives from justice, drug addicts and mentally incompetent individuals.
  • Required registration of all firearms with the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
  • Prohibited the possession of firearms on which the serial number has been altered, obliterated or removed.
  • Controlled containers, markings and chains of custody for shipped firearms, eliminating mail order delivery to unlicensed individuals.

Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986: Signed Into Law August 28, 1986

A brutal Miami shootout in April 1986 between two bank robbers and eight FBI special agents left two agents dead, three seriously wounded and two injured. The criminals’ weapons – a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle loaded with .223 Remington rounds, a shotgun and two .357 caliber handguns – were notably “more powerful and their rounds could penetrate even the armored vests that some of the agents were wearing.” In the aftermath, the 99th Congress decided “to regulate the manufacture, importation, and sale of armor piercing ammunition.” Public Law 99-408:

  • Made the manufacture and importation of armor-piercing ammunition illegal; the only exceptions are for governmental use, authorized testing and export.
  • Established an annual $1,000 license fee for armor-piercing ammunition manufacturers and importers and the government’s right to revoke that license for violations of the law.
  • Required special markings and packaging for armor-piercing ammunition.
  • Mandated five years in prison without suspension, probation or parole for individuals possessing armor-piercing ammunition and a firearm while committing a violent crime.

Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988: Signed Into Law November 10, 1988

The use of lightweight yet durable polymers in the popular and reliable Glock 17 – a “plastic” semi-automatic pistol – first raised security concerns about the possibility of mass-produced guns passing through metal detectors unnoticed. In response, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-649 prohibiting all firearms that are not detectable by walk-through metal detectors – that are less than 3.7-percent steel. It also banned firearms with major components that fail to “generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component” on standard airport imaging technology. Originally passed for a 10-year term, the act was extended in 1998, 2003 and – most recently – 2013 for another 10-year term as Public Law 113-57.

Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993: Signed Into Law November 30, 1993

In 1981, John Hinckley, Jr.’s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan first injured Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady. Hinckley’s first shot entered above Brady’s left eye and left the nation shaken by “The Bear’s” new role as a wheelchair-bound gun control advocate. Within 16 minutes of the incident, Hinckley’s gun – a .22-caliber Röhm RG-14 revolver – was traced to a Dallas pawn shop. Hinckley had no criminal or mental records at the time, but he did use an old Texas driver’s license and fake address.

The Brady Act, or Public Law 103-159, was first introduced to Congress in 1987, but it wasn’t passed until 1993. The key provisions amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 by:

  • Mandating a five-day waiting period before a licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer can sell, deliver or transfer a handgun to an individual.
  • Establishing a “national instant criminal background check system to be contacted by firearms dealers before the transfer of any firearm.” However, this provision applies only to states that don’t already have acceptable background checks for handgun purchasers. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, or NCIS Act, introduced conditional but optional financial incentives and grants for establishing or upgrading state reporting systems.

The Brady Campaign continues to advocate and lobby for tighter gun controls “To Prevent Gun Violence.”

Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (a.k.a. Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994): Signed Into Law September 13, 1994

Two notable events precipitated 1994’s assault weapons ban. First, a gunman using TEC-9 handguns with Hellfire trigger systems, a Norinco NP44, and both standard and hollow-point ammunition killed eight people and wounded six in 15 minutes in San Francisco’s 101 California Streetskyscraper. The second was the siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, a 51-day government standoff with a fiery ending that left 82 Branch Davidians and four ATF agents dead. More than 300 Davidian-owned firearms and nearly 2 million rounds of “cooked off” or spent ammunition included fully automatic AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, .50 caliber semi-automatic rifles and antitank armor-piercing ammunition.

In answer, President Bill Clinton signed Congress’ Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act – Title XI of Public Law 103-322 or the Federal Assault Weapons Ban – “to make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons” for 10 years. It prohibited the manufacture, sale and possession of specific types of semi-automatic firearms with military-style features and large-capacity magazines. This included many weapons with folding stocks, flash suppressors, barrels threaded for silencers and detachable magazines that held more than 10 rounds. However, pre-ban weapons were grandfathered, exempt from the new law.

2004 Expiration of Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994

In the ensuing decade, the results of the ban on assault weapons did not align with the intent of the law. Cited by both sides of the gun control issue, An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence 1994-2003, ultimately found that “Although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semiautomatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs.” While states like New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey retain their own assault weapon laws, attempts to re-introduce federal legislation banning assault weapons have been unsuccessful.

Supreme Court Case District of Columbia et al. v. Heller Decision: Decided June 26, 2008

D.C. v. Heller was a highly debated landmark case that addressed disparities between local and federal law. At debate was whether a D.C. special policeman had the right to register and keep a handgun in his home without a trigger lock despite D.C.’s prohibition on handguns and unregistered firearms. District law also required that even registered weapons must be unloaded, disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

Heller maintained that he had the right to accessible self-defense in his home. Despite dissenting opinions, the court ruled in his favor, acknowledging that handguns are common arms choices for “defense of self, family and property.” The court added that imposing a trigger lock requirement prevents ready self-defense and declared the condition unconstitutional. The District was instructed to allow Heller to register his gun and issue him a license to carry it in his home.

Supreme Court Case McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al.: Decided June 28, 2010

Just two years later, the Supreme Court heard McDonald v. Chicago, clarifying the decision reached in D.C. v. Heller by expanding the right to bear arms within the home to all U.S. states. The case centered on Chicago’s ban on handguns versus petitioners who lived in high-crime neighborhoods and – like Heller – also wanted the right of “defense of self, family and property.”

This time, however, the plaintiffs based their argument on the Fourteenth Amendment – resolution to the Black Codes and guarantee for equal protection under the law – and its inclusion of Second Amendment rights. Once again, the Supreme Court ruled that private citizens retain their Second Amendment right to self-defense in their own homes regardless of locale or state and went on to confirm that the Fourteenth Amendment does in fact secure the Second.

The Rights of an American Citizen

The work of the Founding Fathers, the Second Amendment is uniquely American. They were men who had to fight for their freedom from tyranny, and who intended that the means for that fight should never be taken away from American citizens.

Over the last two centuries, however, the United States and its people have sought to strike a balance between the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment and the mayhem created by guns wielded by unhinged individuals. In that balancing act, outrage and fear have been powerful forces pushing some Americans to call for more firearm laws in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, assassins and terrorists.

As this balancing act continues, it is worth remembering the unshakeable connection between American citizenship and the right to bear arms from an American once denied that right:

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.”

Frederick Douglass

 

I Would Still Like To Know Why Gun Owners Love Their Guns.

Despite what some of my dear Gun-nut Nation friends may think, I have no ego invested in explaining why some of the beliefs they share for reducing gun violence or explaining gun violence are simply wrong. Nor have I decided to go over to the ‘other side’ and make common cause with Wayne-o, Chris Cox or John Lott. Folks should understand that pointing out what may be errors in GVP policies or research supporting those policies isn’t a backhand effort to justify violence caused by guns.

NRA showI joined the NRA in 1955. At that time the organization focused on the use of guns for hunting and sport. There was a bit of talk about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but nobody within the organization believed that the occasional gun-control bills introduced in Congress reflected the coming of Armageddon or any attempt to turn America into a Fascist state. Even the Gun Control Act of 1968 was a half-hearted attempt, at best, to pretend that dividing the population up between good guys and bad guys would help the cops in their fight against crime.

Obviously, the world has changed in many respects over the intervening sixty-plus years. But I still believe that guns play a positive role in my life because I enjoy buying them, selling them and even occasionally shooting them since those activities usually afford me the opportunity to get together with other gun nuts like me. And don’t ask me how and don’t ask me why, but I always have a good time talking to other gun nuts about guns.

On the other hand, I will not and cannot accept the idea that we should ever assume that armed citizens can or should take the place of police in keeping the community safe. Sorry, but listening to someone drone on for a couple of hours and then shooting a few rounds into a non-moving, paper target doesn’t qualify anyone to either walk around with a self-defense gun or even think they are prepared to use that gun in a proper and effective way. I’m not saying there aren’t instances, documented or not, where a gun-owner picks up his/her gun and prevents some serious crime from taking place. But handguns and assault rifles are designed to do one thing and one thing only, namely, to shoot someone else. And to quote the great novelist Walter Mosley, “If you walk around with a gun, it will go off sooner or later.”

Notwithstanding my implacable and determined stance against self-defense guns, I am still waiting for someone in the GVP research community to explain how and why a remarkable example of cognitive dissonance exists when it comes to how America feels about guns.  Ready?

In 1959, a Gallup survey found that 60% supported a ban on private ownership of handguns. Not more restrictive licensing, not some kind of permit-to-purchase, but an absolute ban. This number has now dropped to slightly above 20%. At the same time, public health researchers have published endless studies showing that guns increase risk. And since less than 40% of American adults own guns, obviously the idea that a gun is not a risk but a benefit, is shared by many non-gun owners as well.

I cringe every time a GVP-leaning outfit produces a survey showing that Gun-control Nation and Gun-nut Nation agree on various ‘reasonable’ gun regulations (example: comprehensive background checks) because these so-called ‘reasonable’ policies invariably reflect the agenda of folks who want more regulation of guns, not the other way around. How come these surveys never include ask the two sides how they feel about getting rid of gun-free zones or a national, concealed-carry law?

This is the first time that the noise being made by Gun-control Nation seems to be matching, if not exceeding, the noise made by the other side. But arguments need to be based not just on noise, but on facts. I’m still waiting for my GVP research friends to supply some of those much-needed facts.