The Ten Ways
Vice-President Joe Biden will within days flash his beautiful teeth (only his orthodontist knows for sure what his barber already knows) and deliver the conclusions of the ponderous machinery of his task force (or whatever it’s officially called).
One would like nothing so much as a powerful legislative drone strike against the NRA and the industry it represents as the opening round in a long and relentless war against gun violence. But the NRA is not crouched in the dust behind a hill in Yemen. What we are most likely to see is a frizzante of accommodation, an artfully-contrived punch, served up as the gun control nobility whirl about in the kind of grande valse brillante that passes for action today in Washington, DC.
Here are ten signs—among many that one could state—to watch, in order to know at the end of the day whether you have been sold out once again by the political nobility of gun control.
- Failure to stop production, import, and transfer of ownership of semiautomatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines. If either of these bans is out, the fix is in. A high-capacity magazine ban would be a useful advance, but if the guns themselves are not addressed, a thriving trade in contraband magazines is guaranteed to ensue. By the way, there is nothing magic about the number ten. A reasonable case can be made to define a high-capacity magazine as any magazine holding more than, say, five, rounds of ammunition. The current chatter about 10 rounds is political.
- “Grandfathering” existing assault weapons and/or high-capacity magazines. Any law that “grandfathers” (exempts) existing guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines is meaningless as a practical matter. This was one of the great defects of the 1994 law. Millions of military-style weapons would remain in legal circulation. Production and imports would ramp up feverishly to build up legal stocks before the deadline.Should the banned guns be confiscated? No. That is not a realistic or, given the tense facts on the ground in America, wise course. But further transfers of banned guns can be halted, meaning, if you own one, you cannot sell it, give it away, or leave it to your heirs. The guns could be brought under the highly restrictive regime of the National Firearms Act, which requires registration and an extensive background check.
- Allowing “exceptions” or “waivers.” The gun industry loves waivers and exceptions. For example, an assault weapons ban could allow the Attorney General or some other executive authority to “waive” the prohibition on a firearm classified as an assault weapon, for one or another reason. Were that to be in the law, the industry would build its guns toward the waiver and its lobbyists would work the halls of the bureaucracy to open a fatal gap in the ban.
- Exceptions for “small” calibers. It will be tempting to make an exception for assault weapons and magazines in small calibers, e.g. 22 caliber, that are associated in the popular mind with sporting use and thought to be relatively benign. Nothing could be further from the truth. Multiple rounds from an assault weapon in any caliber are extraordinarily lethal.
- Contingency and/or sunset clauses. Contingency clauses, suspending the law’s effectiveness “unless and until” X event or Y data occur, simply open up running room for equivocation, challenge, and litigation. The “sunset” (automatic expiration) of the last ban was a foolish concession allowing the gun industry to bide its time and wage an assault in what was essentially a entirely new legislative fight—with a President who sat on his hands.
- Cosmetic features test. It is well understood that the 1994 law was a failure in large part because its definition of what constituted an assault weapon was a fanciful agglomeration of “bells and whistles,” most of which had absolutely nothing to do with what makes assault weapons so dangerous. An effective law will focus on one prime feature—the ability to accept a high-capacity magazine.
- Private sales to law enforcement personnel. Allowing individual law enforcement officers to make private purchases of banned guns is a bad idea. If an agency decides such guns are necessary, it should purchase and issue them.
- “Relics” and “museum” exceptions. Some existing gun laws are written so as not to cover guns made before a given date or period of time. The flaw is obvious: as time passes, more and more truly modern and exceptionally lethal guns become treated as relics, which they are not in any real sense. Moreover, similar provisions allowing trafficking in guns designated by jerry-rigged “museums” as “curios” simply opens the door to fraudulent certifications of phony curios by fake museums.
- Expanded background checks without funding for implementation, and better definitions of what is disqualifying (especially mental health status). The question of mental health will be explosive, as some mental health advocates will argue that it is not “fair” to restrict the “civil rights” of persons with mental health problems. But a better definition and working practice is essential
- Failure to greatly strengthen the legal definition of gun trafficking, the definition of what constitutes “dealing” in firearms, and to expand funding of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The NRA and the gun industry have deliberately starved the ATF and weakened its authority. It is time to insist that it be given the funds and power to deal with its mission.
For an analysis of the deeper questions and politics of gun control, see the companion post here http://tomdiazgunsandgangs.com/2013/01/14/the-road-from-serfdom-the-politics-of-gun-control/.