Whenever there is a public outcry on any issue, it seems that politicians begin to fall all over themselves trying to get ahead of the crowd and each other. We have seen this again and again with right wing extremists legislating absurd anti-abortion measures such as vaginal probes and impossible clinic regulations. Similarly, legislators have made laws that would require undocumented people to sleep in the dirt and to go without food. They have made it impossible for released prisoners to find housing or jobs, virtually insuring a high rate of recidivism. They pass laws that would allow armed drunks to stagger into bars and churches.
But the same pathology is true on the other side of the ideological aisle as well. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reported a series of gun control proposals wending their way through the Democratic-controlled legislature. And for the record, I am a life-long Democrat and gun owner. I endorse a ban on magazines that hold more than ten rounds. I believe that gun purchases should be limited to no more than one every three months. I favor background checks on all gun purchasers. I do not oppose gun registration. But some of the proposals that I saw in the paper today seem utterly stupid and do nothing to address the gun problems we actually face.
First and foremost, there is a problem with handguns. Most of the shooting deaths I read about in the paper or hear about in the news, far and away, involve handguns. Handguns should tightly regulated to keep them out of the wrong hands. They should be registered. Owners should be required to keep them in their immediate physical possession, stored in locked compartments or to have trigger locks. They should be required to report a missing or stolen handgun within twenty-four hours of discovery, or bear legal responsibility for its misuse. Possession of a handgun by someone other than the registered owner should be a crime.
Having said that, we should not go to extremes. If someone feels the need for home/self defense, I don’t think the legislature should second-guess that decision across the board. Many people live in dangerous locations. Some people have violent enemies. Each case is different. When I was a lawyer, I had an adversary threaten to shoot me and my whole family. I had a client whose husband threatened to shoot her. The police actually advised her to arm herself. I think it’s presumptuous to deny threatened people, once properly trained, their right to self-defense. Yes, I know guns can be stolen or used against the owner, or picked up by a youngster who shoots his friend while at play. Bad things can happen with guns. They do with cars, knives and many other things. All we can to is try to make sure people act responsibly and hold them accountable when they don’t.
The handgun proposal pending in the legislature requires the owner of a handgun to go to some sort of class in proficiency and handgun safety every year. This does not insure proficiency or safety. If a person has a constitutional right to keep a handgun in their home, you can’t deprive them of that right by forcing them to pass a test. Some states tried that with voting rights and eventually the law rejected their tactic. Nor will this law prevent the misuse of the gun. It doesn’t really address the problem.
This proposed law is also a backdoor effort to impose an expense on handgun ownership knowing that it is in lieu of a tax. In the process, it creates a boondoggle akin to the private remedial auto schools we now have when you get a moving violation. The intent is to saddle the owner of a handgun, who has a lawful right to keep it in his/her home according to the Supreme Court, with a cost of hundreds of dollars per year. It’s the same kind of BS logic that anti-abortion lawmakers use to force women to pay for an unwanted sonogram and then to listen to the fetus. It will result in making handguns available only to the competent test-taker with sufficient money. Sadly, it has class, and probably racial overtones.
A second absurd proposal is to call all long guns with removable magazines assault weapons. What about .22s? Can anyone credibly argue that a .22 caliber rim-fire rifle with a five or ten round removable magazine is an assault weapon? It stands the meaning of the words “assault weapon” on their ear.
What about rifles with removable five round magazines? There happen to be many such rifles that are bolt action, not semi-automatic. What about those? Bolt action rifles are not what we’ve seen in misuse in Tucson, Aurora or Newtown. When’s the last time anybody has seen a multiple murder, much less a mass murder by someone using a bolt-action rifle? (Probably, the Texas Tower sniper back in the ’60s.)
There are also some guns that are semi-automatic but have small removable magazines. I am thinking of the Ruger Mini-14, a popular gun among rural folks. Again, this is not a weapon of choice by a mass murderer.
So, as I read the reports of these legal proposals, I am wondering why our legislators are spending their energy trying to fix things that are not broken. I come to the conclusion that they are relying on the ignorance of their constituents or some people’s visceral animosity to firearms of all kinds. Many people in California would prefer to ban all firearms. I can understand their feelings but the current state of the law is not with them and attempting to achieve that result by imposition of incremental absurdities is both disingenuous and counterproductive.