I don’t have time to reply now…

but a reader for whom I have a lot of respect writes in response to my posts on gun culture post-Newtown and I thought it fair to give him a soapbox:

Mark,

I’ve really appreciated reading your posts on guns and violence recently. Like everyone, I’m sick beyond describing at these events. I think your posts are asking good, fundamental questions that should be reexamined continuously. Back in the late 80s / early 90s, Newseek did a special on gun control. (For those who are young, this was back in the day when news magazines like Newsweek were important. Now, I’m happy to say, fewer Americans get their news from Newsweek than from any other source). Anyhow, in the special issue Newsweek’s editorial board proclaimed that the time for debating gun control had ended. I hate that. The time for debate never ends, nor should it. As a lifelong gun owner, contributor to NRA-ILA, father of a 10-year-old who attends public schools, police officer, prosecuting attorney, and defense counsel, I thought I’d offer some measures which I’d be happy to discuss (recognizing this is a state-by-state issue):

I don’t see why people with criminal records should be allowed to own guns. Presently, anyone with a felony conviction who possesses a firearm is subject to a mandatory 10-year sentence for a violation of 18 U.S.C 922. That statute was amended back in the 1990s to include people with misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence. (Oddly enough, prosecutions for those crimes plummet under anti-gun administrations like the Clinton and Obama administrations. That’s not a coincidence, but I digress). That is a federal statute, but I would encourage states (which do 99% of all criminal law enforcement in the United States) to have the same laws. I would go further in my own state and consider a law that would prohibit anyone with a juvenile-delinquency adjudication or misdemeanor conviction from possessing a firearm; after five years, I would consider allowing them to petition for a restoration of their franchise provided 1) that the adjudication or conviction did not involve a firearm; and 2) the decision was made by a judge in a proceeding at which the petitioner and prosecuting attorney argued and presented evidence about the persons fitness to own a deadly weapon. I would further consider expanding that list to include other categories of personal irresponsibility — if a guy gets his drivers’ license suspended on points, why the hell is he responsible enough to own a shotgun? You have to work at getting suspended on points; one or two speeding tickets won’t do it, you have to drive like a one-man demolition derby. Is it unfair to make Tina forfeit her second amendment rights because she threatened to beat up her teacher 20 years ago? No, it’s not, particularly if the little dirtball hasn’t cleaned up her act in the meantime.

I would also consider persons within a certain degree of affinity (relatives) and/or prosecuting attorneys to petition for orders barring individuals from possesing firearms for a period of time on proof of dangerousness, and impose the same 5-year/lifetime ban on persons who are subject to protective orders and mental-health commitments. I realize that entry of protective orders is routine, and often has no real basis in fact (they are favorites of bitter spouses and girl/boyfriends). Tough. You shouldn’t have married/dated that person to begin with and I’m not crying for you. On the other hand, if you’re a wife/husband beater I don’t want you sullying my second amendment franchise anyhow.

I would consider requiring at least 16 hours’ training in firearms safety and self-defense law in order to lawfully possess a firearm. The anti-gun crowd hates these laws because they think it’s blessing private violence and training Americans to be killers. They’d prefer to demonize gun owners as irresponsible nutcases (the inevitabilty of evil, dontcha’ know).

I would consider making it a crime to fail to report a threat of violence. If the state can prove that you read Tim’s facebook page where he threatens to shoot up a school and don’t report it, then you’re guilty (or a delinquent as a juvenile) and subject to the same 5-year ban as misdemeanants. If you hear some guy at a bar threatening to kick someone’s ass, you report that too. Threats are not protected speech.

I would reinstitute the common-law crime of assault. At common law, assault is conduct that would place a reasonable person in fear of bodily injury. I’d do away with my state’s ridiculously-complicated “stalking” statutes, which don’t punish stalking unless some ridiculous criteria are satisfied (such as proof the defendant personally, subjectively, “in his heart” intended to frighten someone, or disproving any possible “legitimate communicative intent”). It’s pretty simple to know if someone’s engaged in conduct that would place a reasonable person in fear of bodily injury, and I’d rather go that route that clutter up statute books with stalking statutes, or statutes making it a misdemeanor to threaten a school employee performing his or her school duties on on school grounds on a school day and nonsense like that.

I would establish a Congressional commission to examine any and all instances of federal law enforcement keeping permanent records of gun owners through examinations of Form 4473s and by preserving electronic records under the present instant-background-check system. Officials who authorized or participated in the compliation of such lists are to be fired without pension or retirement. The lists are to be destroyed. I would make it a federal felony to participate in creating or posessing such lists. I would also repeal the 1986 machine-gun ban. NFA ’34 safeguards are sufficient to protect the public from the irresponsible use of such firearms. I don’t like the individual-registration and inspection provisions of the ’34 act, but I’ll live with them if I can realize my dream of owning an MG34 or M249 (Google them, they’re way cool). I would also outlaw placing gun-ownership questions on census forms (completed under pains of perjury, by the way).

On a larger scale, we need to shift our law-enforcement emphasis from drugs to irresponsible weapons’ use and/or violence. You have a better chance of going to jail or prison for possessing a quarter-kilo of marijuana than you do for the offense of pointing a firearm. In my state, incarceration is mandatory for a second OWI conviction, but not for a first-time domestic-battery conviction. That’s bullshit. Sure, drugs fuel violence — but only violence is violence. I’m not saying we should legalize drugs. I am saying that anyone who thinks a third-time drug dealer should get 40 years in prison instead of a first-time armed robber is crazy, but that’s how crazy we’ve become. Violence is the greatest threat to civil society. Mandatory sentencing laws should be refocused on violent behavior.

I don’t have as much experience on the mental-health side. But here’s what I think preliminarily. We live in a society which has forgotten Christ. Therefore it stands to reason lots of Americans are as crazy as out-house rats. Mental health services are not Christ or grace. But I know for a fact they are nonetheless helpful, and often change and save lives (even Jesus will send you a shrink just like He makes EMTs and surgeons, too). The mental-health community should focus on despair, power fantasies, and things of that nature. I hate Ted Kennedy and will stand as far away from him as I can in the unlikely event we both end up in Heaven. But he did a good thing in forcing employers’ insurance plans to cover mental-health treatment.

The problem, however, with crazy and disturbed people is that they generally don’t realize they’re crazy and disturbed. Or if they do, they tend to sink into a slough of despond and their whole world contracts to foreclose options and hope. It’s part of Satan’s strategy — he makes someone alone, then turn them into loners, and then tries to do what he can through them. I don;t know how to solve that problem. I don’t like giving the state authority to conduct mental-health surveillance. And anyway people who are forced to receive such services are far less likely to benefit from them. Maybe your readers will have more and better suggestions on these lines.

I think the things these solutions have in common is realizing that private ownership of guns, including military firearms, is an important part of American life. Gun ownership reduces crime. It is also a bulwark against tyrrany. Of course, we have to realize that if we’re really organizing into cells and shooting at the third infantry division, it’s not as though the founders’ hopes for the United States have been realized). I also think you’re a bit hard on the “gun lobby.” In the 1990s, when the Brady Campaign and related groups were pushing for national waiting periods and assault-weapon bans (that didn’t ban anything), they opposed the NRA’s idea of requiring instant background checks for gun buyers instead of waiting periods. It was more important to the Brady Campain and the rest that guns be seen as something only irrational people wanted (hence the “cooling off” period) than actually verifying if the guy buying the gun was a convicted felon. You’ll find that most gun-control advocates (Charles Schumer, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, the Brady Campaign, etc. etc.) are all about “reasonable” regulations so long as they establish the principle that gun ownership is at best a distasteful vice and that gun owners are threats to society. The holy grail of that bunch is national gun registration, so that gun owners can be harassed and, eventually, that guns can be confiscated either outright or by increasingly-harsh “violence taxes.” They are soft fascists who believe that any significant social function must be monopolized by the state. They, too, have their own tape loop of ridiculous and demagogic posturing that directs every real concern about crime and violence into momentum toward that goal. When they achieve it, the sort of crimes they dream of committing will come to pass. But that’s enough for now.

I’ve got a lot of work on my plate this week so I’m going to leave it to youse guys to *civilly* hash this out. Be good.

  • Stu

    I’m happy to build on this. I’m a retired Naval Officer (aviator), life member of the NRA, own multiple firearms for members of my family (my wife has one of them for herself), carry my .45 regularly on my person and have been using firearms on my own since being a teenager.
    I think we talk about form of measures to take following Sandy Hook. But what I want to see is some traceability on proposed actions and how they are aimed at minimizing more incidents like this. Because “A” happened, then proposal “B” should go toward actually preventing “A” and not just a measure that adds more bureaucracy or more laws to the mix. There is no shortage of the latter. Perhaps it’s my military background, but I want to see measures aimed at achieving specific objectives. That is what is missing in a lot of these discussions.
    Controlling the entire population, especially crazy people who by definition don’t abide by norms, is difficult to impossible. But we do know what their objectives are in situations like this. They are crazy, not stupid. So they go for soft targets. Much easier to focus on those, which are set, than a bunch of random people. At least, this should be a primary facet of any actions taken.
    Additionally, it was brought up in the last go-round of this that many people proposing different measures are woefully ignorant about firearms. This shows. I would submit that some could benefit by listening to gun owners on such matters instead of just dismissing us out of hand.

  • Ed the Roman

    I could easily live with the reader’s recommendations on the balance. I especially like trashing the ’86 machine gun ban, because statistically, licensed machine gun owners are more law-abiding than Secret Service agents. The answer to the question, “how many of the murders committed with licensed machine guns were committed by cops?” is “both of them.” At least one of those was with a department weapon.

    • kenneth

      Most of the folks licensed to work with VX and anthrax have been law-abiding as well. I’m not sure I want to widen access to those things as a result.

      Actually the reasoned licensed machine gun owners are (thus far) a trustworthy group is that they are, by the nature of the process, very wealthy, or very well established federal dealers, armorers or historians, undergo a licensing process that very nearly requires God to personally vouch for them, and then spend the rest of their lives more or less under the surveillance of the ATF. If high-capacity semi-autos were regulated anywhere near that level, we could count the number of mass shootings on one hand. If the NRA was willing to consider ANY sort of licensing or screening of owners beyond the pro-forma felon checks in place now, we would have a credible voice to make a case for entrusting the “good” guys with more and more firepower.

      Another reason private full-auto ownership was effetively capped in ’86 is quite likely due to the massive “leakage” the U.S. arms market is known for. We ought to have some secure storage requirements, along with a law mandating prompt reporting of theft. Anyone who doesn’t report a theft and can’t document that their guns went to some legitimate sale or destruction should be held criminally liable as accomplices after the fact if those guns turn up in murders down the road. Same thing for straw purchasers.

      Good record keeping and chain of custody type accountability work very well against diversion, whether you’re dealing with drugs or nuclear materials or guns. One of the reasons you find virtually no illegal machine guns on the street is that licensed owners know they’re personally accountable for their guns and that any funny business can be easily traced back to them. If an agent comes by and asks where your weapons are, “I don’t know” or “they must have gotten lost in the move” is not a cool answer.

      If we ever get truly serious about mental health, AND if we gun owners are ever willing to take on some true accountability and transparency, we could have both public safety and a hell of a lot of freedom to safely and legally own some crazy toys. We probably won’t do that out of overblown fears of confiscation, and so the debate will be driven, and ultimately won, by the folks who want to retire the Second Amendment entirely.

      • Stu

        I’m not sure why we are increasingly willing on our own accord to call for the Feds to document more and more of our lives in vast databases that they can tie together. Am I a paranoid conspiracy theory type? Well I’m sure someone will assert it. I think this is the same type of thinking that gets us the Patriot Act, “enhanced interrogations,” invasive personal searches, etc. All in the name of safety and security.

        As Big Government and Big Business get more and more data on us that they can tie together from multiple databases, I can assure you that “transparency” won’t be an issue.

        • kenneth

          That’s why I think the concerns about gun registration are somewhat obsolete. I get where the concern comes from, but let’s look at the reality of today’s world. If the government really wanted to find out who owned guns today, with no central registry, they could do so quite easily.

          Unless you live 100% off the grid, carry no modern electronics and use cash all the time, they can figure out where you’ve been and what you’ve been buying, quite easily. Businesses keep records of sales. Most people use credit cards or some form of electronic payment. All of that can be obtained with keystrokes by the feds, with or without a warrant. By just mumbling “national security” they can dispense with the minor warrant hassle. Ironically, the original architects of this program were the politicians who had 100% approval ratings from the NRA, but I digress…..

          They could get into the member data of the NRA, or any shooting club, or gun magazine, or state DNR hunting license database. I would be very surprised if NSA or someone doesn’t have this data mirrored already. They can sift all of your email, your phone calls, your texts, your social media posts, the things you’ve said on this or any other forum. Often they can figure out where you were last Tuesday or right now, if you carry a cell phone, or have an onboard help system in your car.

          Even if you happen not to have any directly damming evidence of your buying or owning a gun, they could craft a highly sophisticated data analysis that could predict with high accuracy who owns guns, based on thousands of seemingly innocent data points – buying habits, political affiliation, geography, shopping habits, you name it. Everybody can be found these days, and the lack of a central database is a very small inconvenience. So are our firearms, when it comes down to it. If they can get guys in tribal Pakistan who have no street address or paper trail, you better believe any of us can be got. If they did nothing more than randomly kick in doors, they have a 50:50 chance of hitting paydirt in this country.

          So that renders our insistence on no registration a very false sense of security. We’re not going to hide from them, and we’re not going to out-shoot them. So what to do? Go back to the only real bulwark against tyranny, the one strength of democracy – healthy civic engagement so that there is no “them”, just “all of us.” Foster a climate of expansive by accepting expansive responsibility. As gun owners, we could ditch the Feinsteins and the LaPierre’s by the side of the road, and we could prove to middle America that we are better partners in public safety than any nanny state or extremists of any kind.

          • Stu

            Kenneth said…”If the government really wanted to find out who owned guns today, with no central registry, they could do so quite easily…”
            Then why do we need to do more if it is already so easy. Sounds like a done deal. Personally, I’m not too keen to given them another hammer for them to go around and find nails to whack at especially in perceived times of “crisis.” I also dispute the assertion that we wouldn’t be able to “out-shoot” a tyrannical government. As a retired military officer, I’m quite confident in the abilities of not only my fellow retired military but myriad active duty and police who would side with the people. Beside, you wouldn’t fight the establishment on its terms.
            Further, such a measure again has no traceability to the problem set. It doesn’t prevent another Sandy Hook. It just creates more bureaucracy aimed at control and making people feel safe. Brought to you by the makers of the Patriot Act, invasive personal search, rendition, drone warfare and enhanced interrogation.

  • tz

    I don’t see why someone who has written three bad checks for over $100 – maybe BoA, Citi, Chase, or other made a mistake or two – should own a gun?

    I don’t know why someone arrested for protesting in front of an abortion clinic should own a gun to protect his family?

    Criminal Records? I, Mark Shea, and you commit THREE felonies every day. That is the horrible state the law is in. Why have it as an arbiter of self-defense?

    I do not own a gun or any other thing which is intrinsically a weapon (being a “maker”, everything can be a weapon if I can be sufficiently creative). I am an “ultra-pacifist” because I’ve been told that I cannot intervene in the holocaust happening next door except by praying, counseling, or other completely nonviolent means. Yet it creates a threshold for war or other violence. If I cannot raise my hand to prevent dozens of innocent deaths TODAY, when is it ethical and legitimate to do so? When Bush or Obama gives me permission?

    Within 20? 50? 100? 200? miles of where you live, a Sandy Hook of the unborn occurs each day. If you advocate violence, or violent action to prevent it, the place to start is there. Go ahead.

    It is easy to have mercenary thugs harass and intimidate. It is harder to reconcile one’s own actions.

  • Kirt Higdon

    Well put, tz. I don’t own a gun myself, but don’t like the idea of depriving my neighbors and friends of guns because I enjoy the deterrent value of a well-armed community just as I enjoy the herd immunity of most other people getting flu shots without getting them myself as the shots used to inevitably give me a dose of the flu. Also a good number of the people I know who own guns are petite women who work at night jobs or live alone. They don’t deserve to be deprived of their legitimate means of self-defense because of rare spree shootings.

  • Ed the Roman

    Registration, among other things, makes it a shorter legal and psychological step to confiscation. It establishes the principle that it’s the government’s business if the sane and law-abiding are armed. Seriously: what is the purpose of the database other than to make it easier to scoop up guns? I lived in Hawaii, I had to register all my guns when I moved there in 1985. I asked the HPD officer in the station if the registration database had ever been used to get anybody their property back or to solve a crime. He said no. Stolen lawfully owned guns get reported.

    Regarding the intent of the 86 ban, do you have any actual reason to speculate on the motives of the legislators besides your thinking that what you suggest would be a good reason? It wasn’t that long ago: it should be checkable.

    Lastly, if you think that we’re going to get back to us, you are nostalgic for a degree of cultural homogeneity that is simply not on the menu anymore. Militant gay activist socialists in big cities are not willing to see me as part of ‘us’, until I change my mind on their issues.

  • quasimodo

    Britain required registration of all hand guns. Then, according to a university talking head I saw recently, following a Newtown like event they confiscated them “all.” They knew where they were. ( 1986-ish time frame). Within 10 years the murder rate by handguns doubled and now some of the constables in Britain are packing heat.

    Stu said: “I’m not sure why we are increasingly willing on our own accord to call for the Feds to document more and more of our lives in vast databases that they can tie together. Am I a paranoid conspiracy theory type? Well I’m sure someone will assert it. I think this is the same type of thinking that gets us the Patriot Act, “enhanced interrogations,” invasive personal searches, etc. All in the name of safety and security.”

    Amen. I volunteer for a local charity. There is a questionnaire I have to fill out for the feds that is beyond stupid, unnecessary, and insulting. My answers are going into a data bank with my name on it. Pogo was right and we have the government we deserve.

  • c matt

    I would consider making it a crime to fail to report a threat of violence.

    Sounds a little too 1984 for me. Some of the other proposals seem reasonable enough, but that one really concerns me.

    • freddy

      Yup, that one needs re-thinking. All I can think of is some poor waitress losing her job because someone thinks she “should” have heard and reported a plan of violence; or a mom being arrested on the school parking lot for giving her kids an ultimatum if they don’t get in the car “right now!’

      I found the rest interesting and educational.

  • Jamie R

    If your solution to soft fascism and the police state includes more mandatory sentencing laws and making it illegal not to report threats, whether or not they’re true threats, you’re doing it wrong.

    The 2d amendment is, ultimately, a bulwark against tyranny. You can’t protect it with more tyranny.


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