Friday, January 11, 2013

Gun Control (and Trigger Discipline!)

If you are not reading The League Of Ordinary Gentlemen's Symposium on Guns In America, you are missing some great writing

Biden is going to announce what his research has come up with with regards to gun control. Everyone's waiting with baited breath on both sides. Wonkbook has a potential list:
  1. Universal background checks
  2. Ban on high-capacity magazines
  3. Re-open research on gun violence
  4. Consider funding policemen in schools
  • Clean up regulations to make them smart and consistent (including making sure penalties are appropriate)
  • A gun registry that can only be searched by serial number--so you can't see "everyone with a gun"--you can just get "who was listed to THAT number."
  • Federal standards for CCW
  • Safe Storage requirements that are not so onerous as to make them unaffordable and do not require the weapon be unarmed.
  • Insurance requirements with no price meddling by the government
  • Magazine limits (10 for rifles, 15 for handguns)
  • Possibly a limit for arsenals (a 3-gun limit before you you need a permit)
The NRA wasn't happy with its Biden meeting and complained. A lot. Surprising no one.

Diane Feinstein has proposed a gun control law that would:
  • Stop the sale of / ban the heck out of more than 100 specifically named semi-auto rifles, handguns, and shotguns that can take a detachable magazine ... and semi-auto rifles and handguns with a fixed mag of more than 10 rounds. That is to say, almost anything but an old-fashioned hunting rifle or a six-shooter.
  • Stop / ban the heck out of magazines with more than 10 rounds.
  • Grandfather in existing weapons (so, like, millions of these guns)
What Does It Mean?
It means that firearms activists are TOTALLY RILED UP. This is James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response (a training company in Tennessee) who is ready to bring it (violence) if Obama comes for his guns. Presumably he is ready to kill Obama personally should he come with his motorcade. He could totally do it too: look at that bald head, beard, and tatts.

The stupidity of taping threats of violence aside, let's look at what we're actually dealing with here. If the above (and I think Feinstein's proposal isn't going anywhere--but what do I know) were to pass, what would the damage be?

Operation Biden
If Biden's proposals (assuming Wonkbook has them right and that's all) get turned into laws, what's that mean?

Universal Background Checks
The universal background check pretty much means that guns sold either privately (maybe?) or at gun shows need to be recorded.

What You Need To Know: Gun shows are a far, far more important part of the gun culture than the uninitiated might realize. They are high-energy affairs where gun sellers make a lot of their deals. They are equal parts family outing for enthusiasts as financial transaction hubs. They are not shady and are not places where "gangsters" go to buy guns--however, they are also places where guns are sold "over the counter" and are not full of computers, connectivity, and so on. Mandating background checks--if they could not be performed easily--would kill these. That would be bad (for gun culture--but, I'll say it here, bad for America).
What Is Likely: Today we have wireless connectivity and high capacity databases. If properly set up a check could be performed over an iPhone without taking too much time. This requirement is more feasible today than ever before. The likely outcome here is low-impact.
Why It Might Be Bad: Gun owners don't like being subject to intrusive background checks. It also creates a potential bottleneck point for future legislation to prevent sales. Once the infrastructure is set up you can then prevent people with parking tickets from getting guns ... if you want to.

High Capacity Mags
It looks like these are going away no matter what. Everyone hates them.

What You Need To Know: Firstly, a 30-round Mag for an AR-15 isn't so much "high capacity" as "pretty standard." That's what the weapon takes--that's what you'd find in any National Guard armory anywhere. Secondly, switching mags, while quick, is not as easy as the uninitiated probably thinks. Seating a magazine in the magazine well isn't hard but sometimes and with some weapons, you need to seat the mag and still tap it to get the rounds lined up. I know from experience that I had to work with my (ancient) M16A1 to get it to fire after switching mags in many circumstances. Thirdly, despite what you see in the movies, getting a magazine out and in the weapon under stress and quickly takes some amount of training. You can drop the magazine, try to get it in backwards, have trouble getting it out of your tactical vest or whatever. I've seen all these things happen in high-stress drills. A shooter might be somewhat more vulnerable if he fumbles his magazine--certainly more so than if he has 20 more rounds to shoot.
What Is Likely: The law passes and people who like shooting AR15's are freakin' furious--but likely already have a bunch. There is a black-market that no one in law enforcement cares about in 30-round mags.
Why It Might Be Bad: I believe the Second Amendment (for reasons described in earlier posts) implies access to 30-round magazines. I'm no constitutional scholar--but I think this violates the 2nd Amendment.

Research On Gun Violence
Federally funding this seems to be of interest to law-makers. Who could argue with MORE RESEARCH!?

What You Need To Know: Gun-data is VERY hard to come by. Firstly a lot of crimes that involve a gun aren't well reported--if you scare someone off your property with your gun, even if you do call the police, there is no good record of "the gun." There are all kinds of issues with "weighting" different crimes and gun crimes--robbery using a gun is certainly bad--but reporting is often sketchy. Murder is easy to measure (there is a body) but is the most extreme form.
What Is Likely: Any research done with Federal Funds will be looked at critically by the gun lobby. The research happens and convinces no one.
Why It Might Be Bad: If you believe Federal research is biased research then you believe this is going nowhere good. If you believe this is going nowhere good, it's just Step X in the gun-grab.

Police Men In School
Who could argue with this? Well ... it's expensive.

What You Need To Know: The fact that there was (I'm told) a police man at Columbine isn't all that relevant--the doctrine around active shooters was defined by Columbine and today a police man on the scene would be an unmitigated good and might very well make a difference. Other than the cost, this is good.
What Is Likely: Expensive. We probably lack the will for it.
Why It Might Be Bad: If it doesn't help the next one, people will get even more hysterical. A cop on the scene is a probability play--not the end-game. People need to understand that and won't.

The Other Options
I'm not going to do everything else in detail--this is too long already--but here are a few points:
  1. The encrypted owner registry is a good idea in theory but in practice don't believe that if a government wanted to break into it, they wouldn't. On the other hand, the idea that there will be a for-real door-to-door gun grab is also fantasy. It won't happen. This is a great idea--it's smart and has good optics--but it's also unnecessary.
  2. Laws for arsenals aren't useful and don't do much for anyone. The author is skeptical and he should be. Large gun collections scare liberals but that's about it. Offer 'franken-foods' as a sacrificial ban instead.
  3. Insurance, mandated safety, and Federal CCW rules are the sorts of things that sound good in theory but will be seen (correctly) as a gun-tax in practice (and a state's-rights issue). Any proponent of these needs to think carefully as to whether they will solve more problems than they cause politically. 
  4. Fienstein's Assault Rifle Ban is (probably) exactly the kind of stupidity that we've seen before. I see nothing that suggests it will be written without special terms like "assault weapon" or meaningless features (a bayonet mount). Someone who really understands guns and gun culture needs to take a look at what is intended (getting civilian varieties of military rifles off the market) and draft a law that at least speaks the language correctly. If that can't be done, maybe there's a reason to be skeptical of such legal approaches. 
One More Thing
What 2nd Amendment Rights people need to understand is that what happened in Sandy Hooks was an abomination. There's a reason we didn't see much reaction by the administration after Aurora--that was bad. It is nothing compared to young, helpless children being shot. The human perception of tragedy is maximized (women, children) by Sandy Hooks. People 3rd-hand exposed--through the news cycle--are and were horrified. Those exposed directly--or even outside at the perimeter were traumatized.

That was bad in ways Columbine and Virginia Tech simply were not.

This does not mean that it requires a stupid law--or, in fact, any law what-so-ever--perhaps, in the cold light of logic, nothing should change--at all. Perhaps potentially dangerous (but not yet dangerous) mental cases should be housed with AR-15's and high capacity magazines loaded with glittering stacks of ammunition. After all, attempts to do otherwise might create more harm than good.

But even if you're sure that's true--when you say that--you are running into a mental image of terrified children fleeing and cowering--equally unable to understand what is happening as they are unable to defend themselves being methodically and repeatedly shot. Their teacher--a young woman--is already dead, having bled out on the floor. The children not yet dead--but inexorably going to be--can see the only adult who could possibly save them murdered. That is what happened. Fantasies about guns and cops on the scene are meaningless now.

When you are talking about your Second Amendment rights to anyone who doesn't already agree with you? That's the image they have when you are talking.

If you're not quite sure how you sound while that mental image is playing in their head? Well ... I can't help you. But the take-away is that the enormity of Sandy Hooks is likely going to change things. It might stop with cops in schools, background checks at gun shows, and 10-round Mags. I don't know. But I think changes are coming.


  1. I've been enjoying your commentary on gun control, and I'm curious about your opinion as I unpack my own ideas about the 2nd Amendment:

    In his opinion on the DC handgun case, Antonin Scalia declared that the 2nd Amendment contains the inherent right to self defense, and that DC's ban on handguns was unconstitutional. However, he more recently suggested that if you follow the decision to it's logical conclusion, the 2nd Amendment could allow the possession of all hand-held weapons, including machine guns, RPGs, Stinger missiles, etc.

    Now, if the Supreme Court can draw a bright line on a legislature's ability to regulate handguns, why can't it draw a bright line on other weapons? What might a future Supreme Court decide on a hypothetical case challenging the 1934 National Firearms Act, which prohibits machine guns, grenades, and silencers among other weapons?

    Do you think the country is wandering into a place where judges and not legislatures are going to be the ones to decide which weapons are konst-uh-too-shunal and which aren't?

    1. edit to my last sentence: ...judges and not legislatures will be the ones regulating firearms?

    2. I think it is almost unquestionable that judges will be the primary decision maker going forward--at least for a while. This is not because of *inability* by the legislature but, rather, the current climate where just about everything is going to wind up in front of the courts sooner or later.

      That said, I think that there is a degree of appetite on the parts of the political players that's important. Right now, seeing what I'm seeing, there is *very little* appetite on the part of the congress for doing much to hand guns. Yes, universal background checks (on citizen to citizen sales)--but beyond that? I'm not seeing so much. The electorate's appetite for restriction, if there is any, seems to be for AR rifles.

      So I don't think we'd see a high court ban hand guns or allow rocket launchers. Remember that DC's handgun ban is in the climate of extreme hand-gun enabled violence. Same with Chicago--when the public is crying out for *something* politicians will try to deliver *something*--even if it is stupid or whatever.

      But, yes: I think ultimately these questions--whatever answers the legislature comes up with--will wind up in the courts.