Joel: Well, having resolved -- at least as best we can -- the issues around HF 498, the "Stand Your Ground" bill, we're on to HF 3324, the gun registration bill, authored at the behest of Heather Martens, the President of the anti-gun Joyce Foundation funded pseudo-grassroots group, hereabouts, that calls itself a whole bunch of things, among them, "Citizens for a Safer Minnesota." (Heather was shopping this around the Capitol for a couple of months before she made the sale.)
I'm going to try to avoid ad hominem attacks here, honest. But, sheesh -- any gun owner who doesn't look with suspicion on a bill coming out of an antigun group is probably not smart enough to be owning a gun. Or a fork, for that matter.
So let's start off by looking at it. On the face of it, it doesn't say it's a gun registration bill. What it talks about are transfers of handguns and scary looking long guns. (Okay, I'm being a little unfair; it actually talks about "modifying provisions related to the transfer of pistols or semiautomatic military-style assault weapons.")
In Minnesota, there are three ways you can buy a handgun from a dealer.
- Get a purchase permit. These are issued by police chiefs, are free, and require a yearly trip to the local PD to fill out the paperwork. The PD performs a background check, and, in due course, mails you out your purchase permit. You then walk into the gun store, choose a firearm, produce your purchase permit and state issued ID, pay for it and -- not so fast, Mister; you still have to fill out the federal government purchase form, be subjected to an instant background check, after which you, assuming you are not denied, walk out with your newly purchased firearm.
- Get a carry permit. Issued by sheriffs, not free, require training, and a background check. Roughly the same thing, after that. Including, of course, the federally-mandated instant background check.
- A "report of transfer." Instead of going through either of the two processes above, you walk into the gun store, fill in a form, pay for the gun... and then go home. The dealers send the paperwork to the local PD or sheriff, they do the background check, and if they don't come up with a reason that you're disqualified from purchasing a firearm in five business days, you head back to the store, go through the same federally-mandated instant background check, and walk out with a gun.
In none of these three cases does your purchase go into some state or federal database to be maintained indefinitely. It's not gun registration; it's just a background check to see if you are legally able to buy a gun.
There's another way to buy a gun... in Minnesota. (And most other states, too, but let's keep this Minnesota-specific for the moment.) You find a guy who is not a dealer who has a gun that he's willing to part with. You meet with him. You show him your carry permit or purchase permit – if he doesn't know that you have one, he's putting himself in the way of all sorts of trouble if you end up doing anything illegal with that gun – you hand over some amount of money, he hands over the gun, usually (not always, but a good idea) gives you a bill of sale, and you go your separate ways.
Notice that in all of these cases you've gone through at least one background check – and in the first three, two of them. And, again, in none of these cases are you creating a permanent, state-maintained database of who owns what. The law just tries to prevent law-abiding people from selling guns to criminals, leaving that part of the market to other criminals. I'm not sure what value duplicative background checks have, and I'm pretty sure that the proponents of this bill don't, either, or they would have mentioned them.
And then we get to the bill, which turns that background check system into a permanent gun registration system. Or would, if we hadn't killed it for the session. (Like Jason in those horror movies, these things never stay dead; you've got to kill them again and again and again.)
Which brings me to, finally, gun registration. Let's start with what gun registration doesn't do – after decades upon decades of gun registration in various parts of the United States, even the Centers for Disease Control's review of all of the research has shown that not any gun registration scheme has demonstrated that it will do anything to lower violent crime. Or increase the likelihood of punishing violent crime. That works really well on Law and Order and other dramatic fiction; the real world is not obliged to live by the scriptwriters' scripts.
Probably the best-documented case of the slippery slope of gun registration leading all the way to the bottom of confiscation is that of the United Kingdom. This whole thing is worth reading, but note the short form: step by registration/limitations step England went from an effective right to keep and bear arms to almost total confiscation in less than a hundred years.
It's not unknown in the US, either. There's been lots of talk about the DC gun ban – but note that the base on which the handgun ban rested was the law requiring registration, followed by the laws prohibiting anybody from registering a handgun. Even during oral arguments, the district's lawyers had to admit that the prohibition against registration was, in fact, the mechanism for the prohibition against possession.
It's not just DC. Chicago has done the same thing – handguns must be registered in order to be lawfully possessed; no more handguns will be registered; the result is handgun confiscation/prohibition... for law-abiding citizens. (Chicago's large number of gang bangers don't seem to find themselves terribly inhibited, but I digress.) New York City did the same thing with the Sullivan act, although it's not slid all the way down the slippery slope. Now, in order to so much as possess a handgun in your home, you have to apply for a "premises permit" allowing you to have a registered handgun in your home – if, of course, after hundreds of dollars in application fees, certainly months and perhaps years in waiting for a decision, and quite possibly additional thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer's fees, your permit is granted.
The sort of thing has led to moments of unusual interest, over the years. New York State passed a "assault weapons" registration bill many years ago, with promises that, of course, it would never turn into confiscation. Years passed, it did, and those folks who had registered their scary-looking rifles were instructed to turn them in or face prosecution. California has done much of the same thing for some firearms; more are due to follow.
(In one case, the letter went to a fellow who had moved up to a more civilized state – Colorado, I believe. Not being at all interested in what confiscation rules New York state had passed that didn't affect him, he scrawled something like, "if you want my guns, molan labe," on the letter and sent it back to the New York authorities.
(He got a letter from his brother in a few months later. "Did you hear about that SWAT raid on the house you used to own...?")
Yes, gun registration leads – not always, so far, but often – to confiscation. And it's understandable. For the gun grabbers, registration is a necessary (albeit not sufficient) start.
The people who push gun registration are not all gun grabber types, trying to incrementally reduce the right to keep and bear all arms, nibble by nibble. Some of them are those who believe – as an article of faith, and who am I to mock somebody's religion? – that gun control laws actually can reduce violent crime – despite the lack of evidence – and, once the latest gun control law has not actually reduced violent crime, think that if only they pass another one, or two, or a hundred, that will do the job. (Sort of like ancient physicians figuring that if a small course of leeches didn't cure the disease, what was needed was more leeches.)
Charlie: Or more tax cuts, if I may interject from the left field bleachers.
Joel: So, here we have a situation where there are already background checks – in most cases, multiple, duplicative ones – no evidence that requiring additional background checks for private sales would do anything useful here, anymore than it has elsewhere, and the creation of a permanent database of every transaction involving any transfer other than a very short term loan of a handgun . . .
. . . all mislabeled as "closing the gun show loophole."
If the folks behind this bill are looking to bridge any sort of divide at all, much less a great one (and I know you're not one of them) perhaps they might do well to start treating those of us watching them with entirely justifiable suspicion as though we didn't just fall off the turnip truck.
Charlie: I'll confess, I didn't start out predisposed to this bill, based simply on my belief it would not prevent crimes and likely not solve them, either. But I was willing to consider it on the basis of consistency — that is, we do this for other gun transactions; why treat these any differently?
You make the case that such harmless, incremental steps can lead to greater perils later on. Most of the time when I've heard that, it sounds to me like Black Helicopter paranoia, and I'm not sure how much of that interpretation was due to my prejudices or the advocate's rhetoric. But we're trying to get beyond that here.
The slippery slope argument is really spelled out in the long "essay" you linked to, which details the changes in UK gun ownership controls over the past century. The intertwined history of increased restrictions and fears of immigrants, anarchists and labor agitators does seem to have a few lessons for us today. Personally, I find that example more persuasive than the usual Nazis-disarming-the-Jews images I showed here last month.
I also see how a broad rationale for justifying restrictions — in the present case, guns as a public health menace — can lead to further restrictions without new laws being enacted. As I've said before, even gun-hating liberals should be able to get that point, having witnessed enough of that behavior coming from the White House.
But seriously, 26,000 words and 293 footnotes? That won't get far in the court of "gun grabber" public opinion, now, will it?
Turnip truck full of facts and historical precedents aside, here's what I think you and your friends face in trying to persuade people like me.
- Many people living in cities — and close proximity with lots of people they don't know — are not crazy about the idea of more folks walking the streets with firearms, legally or otherwise. That may make you feel safer, but they don't see it that way. They can look to other countries with more restrictive gun laws and lower murder rates and think, yeah, like that.
- Some of your homies do not... um... take rejection well. I think I can speak for others when I say the combination of belligerent rhetoric and gun ownership does not set minds at ease with the idea of loosening restrictions. I know there are lots of reasonable gun advocates out there, but we seem mainly to see the foam-flecked.
- Glorifying or celebrating guns — as with sex, drugs or rock & roll — will turn off some people concerned with the state of our culture who have no personal experience with guns. Unfair? In some cases, sure. But mocking or belittling their fears with the gun equivalent of Gay Pride Parades won't convert any more of them to your side.
- This issue is too wrapped up in party politics. Frankly, a lot of "my" people will have a hard time looking past the candidates and causes associated with gun rights to see the merits of your arguments. I think the gun rights argument could be more compelling if it focused more on the rights and less on the minutia. And as part of that, better segment the people on the other side you are trying to persuade. Focusing on firing up your base just fires up the other side. How do you find more people predisposed to civil rights who are opposed or on the fence? What would it take to bring them along?
You haven't asked my advice, but here it is. Get the NRA, the National Safety Council and Planned Parenthood to champion a new national school curriculum that requires X hours of age-appropriate sex education and gun safety over several years. Make it part of phy ed or health and include actual time at a gun range and training in non-violent conflict resolution. Freak out liberals and conservatives together, while giving each something they want.
I think the country and our culture would be better off with that deal.
Joel: You're preaching to the (secular) choir, Reverend, on that latter; as the saying goes, "you had me at 'hello.'" I'll address the other stuff next round – you went long; I'll need to – but if there's anybody more in favor of teaching non-violent conflict resolution, gun safety and sex ed (and, for that matter, drownproofing) in the public schools than I am, I can't imagine who it might be.
Can I kick the next round off? You've gone from the underlying subject matter we've been talking about to the issue of how to persuade people, and I think that's a very useful direction, but it's a new one, and I'd like to start out.