Seven Things I’d Say to the Judiciary Committee on Gun Control

While working today, I had the Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control playing in the background. I knew it would give me a headache at best, and enrage me at worst, but mostly I wound up annoyed. Some of the comments made a lot of sense- on BOTH sides of the debate- but too frequently, the diatribes veered off into utter nonsense.

I’ve talked about gun control here before, and I’m not crazy enough to think that all the regulations I’d like to see enacted will see the light of day. But the logic in play in some of these conversations are enough to make my head explode. Let’s discuss.

1. Multiple members of the committee and the panel have painted the picture of a mother at home with children, needing to protect herself and her kin from intruders. They argue that limiting magazine capacities puts said mother in danger. Here’s a thought- if individuals are required to be trained and tested in order to receive a license to purchase and own a firearm, maybe that mother doesn’t need 15 rounds to hit that intruder.

2. The “cosmetic” differences between an assault rifle and the guns proposed legislation would allow for aren’t necessarily cosmetic. As we heard from the panelists, those cosmetic differences improve grip, can help cool down the weapon to allow for more effective rapid fire, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of the weapon in the right hands. A blanket assault weapon ban may not make the most sense in the world, but the cosmetics line is pretty damn stupid, too.

3. LaPierre has repeatedly said that background checks will never be universal because criminals won’t subject themselves to it. Isn’t that part of the story? We’d like to discourage them from trying to buy a weapon, so let’s make it more difficult for them to acquire one. Also, following this line of logic, we should have no laws at all- after all, someone is always going to try to break it. In what world does that make sense? 

4. We heard a great deal on how strict gun laws have failed. You know why they fail? Because they are surrounded by areas with much more LAX gun control. You can have the strictest gun laws in the nation, but if someone only has to drive an hour away to get a gun without having to jump through hoops, of course those laws will be ineffective. Think about it:

States shaded according to Brady score on gun control. Notice what surrounds Chicago and DC?

5. Fair point- let’s go after the people violating gun laws. Up the penalties. Be willing to prosecute vigorously. But don’t give us the horse and pony show on a decreasing number of cases being brought against violators- the number of defendants is up over 40% since 2000. We can and should increase prosecution, but it’s not going down.

6. Can we PLEASE close the stupid gun show loophole? Private sellers should be required by law to acquire a background check for potential buyers. Give me ONE REASON why that’s a problem. Because you’re being “treated like a criminal”? Are you being treated like a criminal when you undergo a background check for a job? Or to acquire a loan? Are you being treated like a criminal when the DMV checks your records for convictions prior to issuing you a new license? Give me a break.

7. Let’s chat for a second about the black market. People like to paint it as this hazy evil underground that we can’t control. But those guns come from somewhere- frequently through straw purchases made by individuals who can easily access the weapons, and then turn them around for a profit. In a world where private sellers are required to secure background checks, and in a world where we’re going after gun law violators with new gusto, the price of a black market gun would increase with the increase in risk associated with supply, and that cost may drive down demand. Don’t sit there and act like we can’t do anything about it. We may not be able to eliminate it, but we can make progress.

There’s much more to be said, but for now, quit the circus act folks.

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7 comments

  1. The gun industry is a significant part of the US economy. The livelihood of gun manufacturers, dealers, gun range owners, show organizers, and all the people that they employ depends on it. The sale of weapons, ammunition, accessories, and other economic activity related to guns is a significant part of the GDP (and government revenue).

    There’s very little economic incentive for anyone to change the status quo.

    Today, the gun industry is comparable to the cigarette industry in the 1930s-1970s. The big difference is that 1) guns aren’t as big of a burden on healthcare 2) guns are durable, so they’re going to be around for a while, and 3) criminals NEED guns, so they will do everything possible do hold on to them.

    Look up the statistics on cigarette consumption and deaths related to cigarettes since the 1980s. Things have improved significantly, but slowly, It takes time.

    It will probably take several generations and a lot of incremental legal (and social) reform before we see similar changes for guns. Right now, guns are part of the culture, but with enough time, that can change.

    This is the strategy that I would use:

    Find the most effective changes with the lowest economic impact and the lowest compliance costs. That’s where you’ll find the path of least resistance. As change is implemented and proved to be successful, it sets a good precedence and builds momentum.

    In this up-hill battle, your friends are the ones with the least to lose and the most to gain from a curb on guns: law enforcement personnel. Find the reforms which 1) will make it easier to go after criminals and 2) are most likely to protect the lives of cops.

    I’d avoid the idealists and “freedom fighters.” They’re loud, but represent a tiny portion of the population.

    Well, I’ve reached my procrastination quota for the day. It’s been fun.

  2. My first book is about American woman and gun use. Given your passion for defending women’s rights (good for you!) and attacking the prevalence of violence against women, there also needs to be more women involved in any rational political discussion of how to change gun culture in the U.S. Many women live in daily fear of domestic violence — which is such a banal term, I call it intimate terrorism — and their partners’ ready access to guns continues to be a piece of that problem.

    I agree with your first point. I did a lot of handgun training to write my book, (I don’t own a gun and don’t wish to), and it’s a patronizing/comforting fantasy that women can’t shoot and kill. Anyone well-trained knows how quickly this is possible and is trained to aim for the heart and lungs. Men don’t want to hear it, nor do many women. But it’s true.

    Here’s a link to my book, if interested…

    http://blownawaythebook.com/

  3. Hey! I’ve been poking around some of the older posts on here and came across this one. A few of the points here piqued my interest. I’ll try to be brief.

    1) I don’t have a problem with limiting magazine size to ~10 for rifles and to factory standard for handguns. It only has a very limited chance of making a difference in anything, but it doesn’t really hurt matters either.

    2) The legislation most recently under consideration would have reduced the number of “restricted characteristics” to just one, meaning even a plastic pistol grip or an adjustable stock will turn something into an “assault weapon”. These are essentially cosmetic because they change nothing about the mechanical working of the firearm. A plastic handgrip is more ergonomic for anything other than prone target shooting and an adjustable stock can allow two people to more easily use the same gun, but neither thing makes a gun significantly more dangerous. As crazy as the NRA nuts can be, their opposition to this kind of assault weapons ban is pretty well understandable.

    6) The gun shoe loophole is woefully misnamed; it’s the “private sale” loophole and there’s simply no way to close it. Criminals do not get their guns from unsuspecting citizens who would refuse sale if they only knew who they were selling to; they get their guns from straw purchasers and other criminals. Requiring background checks for private sales makes NO sense at all; it’s not going to stop criminals from getting guns. If we want to stop straw purchasing, we should create an optional free instant background check system and then make it illegal to negligently provide a firearm to a criminal (rather than willfully like the statute currently says).

    Anyhow, thanks. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. This is a tricky issue for sure, but there’s gotta be a middle ground somewhere.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I’ll address each point individually.

      1. I understand that it won’t necessarily guarantee anything, particularly if someone is a good shot. But if it slows down someone trying to inflict a lot of harm, I’m for it, too.

      2. I agree that we need to have a better way of framing the assault weapon conversation. It’s not helpful the way it’s progressed.

      3. I have to disagree on the background check element, particularly in private sales if assuming penalties for straw purchasers or those who fail to conduct a background check. It’s a deterrent on the supply side, more than anything, and if supply suffers from scarcity, both the increased cost of acquisition and the difficulty associated with finding the weapons to begin with can help decrease the frequency at which individuals attain the weapons illegally. Is it perfect? No. Are speed limits perfect? No, people break them. Do speed limits still serve a purpose? Probably.

      Again, thanks for commenting. It’s an important conversation to have.

      1. Thanks for replying! Glad we agree on 1 and 2.

        The current background check system is arguably too complicated; it would put an undue burden on private individuals. A grandma selling her late husband’s shotgun in a garage sale can’t be expected to go through the same process as a federally licensed dealer.

        But it could work, if things were simplified. Make background checks automated, instant, and toll-free via telephone. Eliminate extraneous information like firearm details; all you should need is the SSN or DL# of the buyer and the seller. End of story.

        Simplifying it like that could allow the government to regulate ammunition purchases, too. If a criminal can’t buy bulk ammo at Walmart, it’d sure put a damper on extracurricular activities.

        It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.

      2. I’m alright with simplifying the process, and I think we’re technologically at a place where that’s more than possible. I’d say put it online, have licensed service providers with sites where the information is put in and run immediately. I think there might be value for indicating serial number on the weapon; if the weapon doesn’t have a serial number and wasn’t manufactured before 1968 (based on my understanding) it’s not legal for sale anyway, and if the serial number is flagged for having been used in a crime, it could provide important information to the authorities.

        I like the ammo idea, as well. I’m just not sure how that works without some kind of database, though. If I’m limited in how much ammo I can buy, what’s to stop me from going to 10 different stores? If I’ll clear all the background checks, I can still buy in bulk without a database, and I’m sympathetic to people not wanting that.

      3. The reason I suggested removing the serial number requirement is because it would help earn support for the measure among the far right. There could certainly be some value in having that information, but if someone knows a firearm is stolen, they won’t be reporting the real serial number anyway.

        But it could be a good piece of information after the fact.

        You make a great point about technology; we absolutely have the ability to make the whole process a lot simpler. Upon running a successful check, the seller would receive a unique confirmation code that could be used to pull up the record check from an encrypted database; if the serial number did end up being included, this could be used to help trace everything. But it would have to be encryption-protected so that law enforcement couldn’t scan through without a warrant.

        With a warrant, of course, law enforcement could “flag” the SSN or DL# of suspected straw purchasers and obtain ongoing reports of activity.

        The ammo thing wouldn’t really be about limiting bulk — if Joe Redneck is going out target shooting with five of his buddies for a weekend and needs to buy 50 cases of ammo, there’s technically nothing wrong with that — but about limiting who CAN buy. If you aren’t allowed to buy a gun, you shouldn’t be allowed to buy ammo either.

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