April 5, 2013
Finally, some sanity, and from a somewhat unexpected source. The ACLU is concerned about the civil liberties implications of the new Harry Reid Senate bill to establish so-called “universal background checks” for firearms purchases. The organization has tended toward silence on gun rights, but at least now it recognizes aspects of the problem with this terrible proposal.
Ever since Sandy Hook, the Obama administration and its progressive choir have demanded a new Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). Now it looks like that plan is toast. California Senator Dianne Feinstein blames gun owners and the NRA, and in a sense we should have expected all along that this proposal would get nowhere. Such a ban would mostly target “semi-automatic” rifles—which, despite all the hysterics, simply refers to any standard rifle that fires one round each time the trigger is pulled—that happen to have esthetic elements like the pistol grip that do not in fact add to the weapons’ lethality. This is the nonsensical standard used to ban some classes of weapons instrumentally identical to the ones banned in 1994.
The first AWB devastated the Democrats politically, and probably contributed as much as anything to the Republicans’ crushing victory in the 1994 congressional elections after forty years in the legislative minority. It also hurt Al Gore in his run against George W. Bush in 2000. The ban generally prohibited ordinary but scary looking rifles, which are used in about two percent of violent crimes committed with firearms. The law did not apply to, say, most of the weapons used at the Columbine school massacre in 1999. But it did interfere with Americans’ basic right to own what we can fairly call the modern version of the musket. Millions of Americans own such weapons like the AR-15, the most popular rifle and one targeted by the Democrats’ proposal for a new, robust AWB. These weapons are used for hunting, sport, and self-defense. They are not, despite all the misinformation to the contrary, repeating, military-style rifles.
In any event, the unpopularity of an AWB always doomed this proposal, especially under a Democratic president as distrusted on the right as Obama. The Republicans have the House and too many Democrats in the Senate are loyal to their gun-owning constituents.
So this whole time, the real threat to our firearms freedom has been these less debated, peripheral proposals—proposals that strip people the state deems “mentally ill” of the right to bear arms, proposals that violate the civil rights of released convicts, proposals to increase penalties for violations of current law, and, as disturbing as anything, proposals to institute “universal background checks.”
The gun restrictionists have pointed to polls showing more than 90% approval of such background checks, including among a vast majority of conservatives, Republicans, and gunowners. Liberty is always attacked on the margins, and most Americans don’t go to gun shows and so don’t see the big deal. Surely the state should know who is armed. Surely we don’t want people buying and selling guns freely.
But, in fact, universal background checks are arguably even more tyrannical than banning whole classes of weapons. Why should the government know who is armed? Why shouldn’t people be allowed to freely buy and sell private property without government permission? Half of Americans see background checks as the first step toward full registration then confiscation. Many fear that the new law would create records of these deals that would not immediately be destroyed, which could form databases or enable government in further nefarious purposes. The progressives have tended to regard any of these worries as paranoia, but it looks like the ACLU is now among the paranoid.