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Civil Rights

Gun Reform We Can Live With

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Disclosure: I am a gun owner and a lifetime member of the NRA.

Eliot Rodgers has joined the list of the damned by perpetrating another senseless rampage of violence in Southern California.

eveil

Were it not for the heart-breaking statement of Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, the atrocity might barely have registered for more than a day on the national news. Thus have we become inured to evil; and apathy has replaced outrage, especially since we know nothing will be done to prevent the next attack.

Is that really necessary? Is the Second Amendment so wholly incompatible with a modern society? The nation is bitterly divided over this question.

We should be very careful when tampering with rights: once gone, they are almost impossible to win back. Today it might be the right to bear arms; tomorrow it might be habeus corpus or the right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures, the freedom of the press or freedom of religion. Don’t take my word for it; you have ample proof with PRISM, “stop and frisk”, the government’s attempts to persecute and imprison journalists for protecting sources of leaked information, and perennial attempts to establish an official religion in various states. There will always be someone telling us that our rights are an impediment to the “efficient” functioning of government or society.

Some argue that the amendment was written at a time of more primitive technology, of single shot muskets, and that the Founders could not conceive of the carnage an AR-15 can inflict. I believe rather that the Founders could not conceive that any American would turn an AR-15 onto a classroom full of children. These were men and women who lived through savage frontier attacks and the War for Independence: they were fairly familiar with carnage.

My personal opinion is that the Second Amendment is neither incompatible with modern society, nor any less necessary today than it was when the Founders wrote it. I support the right to keep and bear arms; furthermore, I support the interpretation of the Supreme Court that this is an individual right, just like every other one enumerated in the Bill of Rights[1]. That being said, no right is absolute: the right to free speech is limited by libel laws; freedom of religion does not permit you to commit human sacrifice or forcibly proselytize your neighbors. Similarly, the right to bear arms doesn’t mean I can park a tank in my driveway or own cluster bombs. Within the context of a general right, the government is authorized to impose the proper limits. (For a full exposition of my views on the Second Amendment, please refer to my article: “Mythbusters #5: The Second Amendment”).

convention

The limits are, for the most part, well-established: weapons which are neither firearms nor personal arms are prohibited: things like rocket launchers, artillery and mortars, and armored vehicles. Even within the category of personal firearms, fully automatic weapons can only be owned by getting a special license issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabaco and Firearms. These restrictions and licensing procedures work so well that no “lone wolf” attacker has ever used a machine gun or other restricted-access weapon to carry out an attack[2].

Once the would-be assassin has access to the weapons, it becomes almost impossible to stop them. Unless the police enjoy the immense good fortune of being tipped off by a family member, friend or neighbor, or are even more fortunate and detect the killer on his way to his intended crime scene, the attack is impossible to prevent. Preventing homicidal-suicidal maniacs from getting weapons is therefore crucial. Additionally, getting disturbed young men the proper treatment, and if necessary, off the streets, is also important.

There is growing support for introducing a “smart gun” mandate whereby every firearm manufactured, imported or sold in the United States must incorporate smart technology[3]. A “smart gun” is any weapon that incorporates some form of technology that prevents the weapon from being fired except by its authorized user: whether a transmitter embedded in a ring or watch; a biometric scanner in the weapon’s grip or trigger; or some other form of inhibitor. Ignore for the moment the many potential disadvantages of introducing an untried technology into a lethal weapon: the most important argument against a “smart gun” mandate is that it wouldn’t have stopped many of the mass shooting that have occurred in the recent past. The majority of shooters either bought the weapons legally or took them from a family member who was the legal owner.

Proponents of a “smart gun” mandate also argue that the technology could be developed so that inhibitors placed in schools would prevent the discharge of firearms within the grounds. Assuming that these inhibitors worked at 100% efficiency and were not susceptible to being disarmed or cut off from their power supply, there is nothing to prevent a shooter from moving on to a softer target: the school bus once off school grounds, the bowling alley, the mall, the park. Not to mention that the widespread use of inhibitors raises the spectre of criminals getting their hands on them and using them to rob, rape and kill civilians with impunity.

smartguns

“Smart gun” technology may be the future of firearms, but the technology Is not yet developed enough for widespread adoption. Even when it is ready, it will be an additional layer of safety to prevent accidental discharges and injury to children, rather than a means of preventing homicidal-suicidal rampages.

In order to prevent those, we need to stop psychotic young men from getting their hands on firearms in the first place. All of the most recent shooters have some things in common, which could be leveraged to craft an effective policy:

  • Some shooters had a history of mental health problems with clear warnings by psychologists of potentially violent anti-social behavior;
  • Most of the rest had an easily identified public profile on social media in which they expressed extremely violent behavior and intentions.

Both of these factors are open to detection, but police would need time and the adequate resources to conduct such searches:

  1. In order to give authorities the adequate time to conduct their investigation, a mandatory two week waiting period[4] should be required for all firearms purchases, with the exception of firearms with a cartridge capacity of less than two[5];
  2. In order to facilitate the detection of mentally unstable applicants, a national mental health database should be compiled that would include the records of potentially dangerous individuals. A mental health database would be part of a general health database, which is a logical means of improving health outcomes anyway;
    1. Health records are confidential, but anyone wishing to purchase a firearm would be explicitly acquiescing to the search by signing a temporary privacy waiver form;
    2. Medical professionals would annotate which forms of mental illness would disqualify a citizen from owning a firearm; it would not be left to police discretion to decide. Patients would also have the right to review their records and appeal any errors or judgments in the record to a medical review panel.
  3. During that time, the police would also be conducting internet searchestodetermine whether the applicant had posted any
    1. Given that denying a person a firearm due to something they posted online in YouTube is potentially a violation of two fundamental rights – free speech and the right to bear arms – the police would have to work through the courts. Authorities could automatically extend the original approval period by an additional amount in order to have time to present their case before a judge, and the judge would have to decide whether to grant the denial of purchase of the firearm;
    2. The applicant would be able to appeal the ruling.

The legislation should include a “shall issue” provision, whereby authorities would not have discretion in withholding the purchase authorization except in the above two instances. At the expiration of the review period, hopefully much sooner, if nothing were found, the approval must be given for the purchase.

Concerns  – legitimate ones – can be raised about the intrusive nature of these checks. However, there is nothing in this proposal that goes beyond what a job applicant is subjected to without the benefit of a judicial review and appeal process. The voluntary acceptance of a waiver to authorize internet searches is also mild considering the vastly more powerful involuntary and unauthorized internet searches being carried out routinely by the NSA and FBI without your consent. The purpose of this legislation would be to provide a check to stop the next Adam Lanza or Eliot Rodgers from purchasing a semi-automatic weapon, while protecting the rights of firearm owners to a speedy and non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory process. It is far more likely to be palatable to the majority of citizens and their representatives than a “smart gun” mandate or new assault weapons ban, neither of which would achieve the stated goal of stopping nutters from getting guns.

I’m a gun owner, a hunter, and a firm supporter of the Second Amendment. I am also a human being, who deplores the needless death and suffering of children and their families. Precisely because I am all of those things, I urge in the most powerful terms my fellow members to come to our senses and force the NRA to stop opposing every single gun law reform that comes before Congress, regardless of its merits. If we don’t, eventually we will lose this important right through our own blind obstinacy.


Sources and Notes:

[1] I don’t often find myself in agreement with this Court, but I do in this case.

[2] “Lone wolf” refers to an individual attacking entirely on their own, without any outside assistance and without membership in a group. My statement does not extend to members of criminal or terrorist organizations, like narcotics traffickers or organized crime. I also do not include items that can be fabricated at home, like explosive (Unibomber, ), though military grade explosives would fall into this category.

[3] New Jersey has recently passed such a statute which would come into effect within the state as soon as

[4] Two weeks is a suggestion, I would defer to law enforcement authorities on the proper amount of time they should be given to conduct a thorough search as well as deal with potential backlog

[5] Single shot target rifles and handguns, muzzle loading long arms and handguns, double-barreled shotguns

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“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.“

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