Yesterday, I outlined four steps that I believe are necessary if we're really going to do something meaningful about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Today, I will try to deal with the objections to that program.
The four steps I suggest are banning all semi-automatic weapons of any kind, banning all handguns, banning all high capacity magazines, and putting a significant tax on the remaining legal guns and ammunition.
Doesn't this violate the Second Amendment?
To be sure, there will be lawsuits galore. But even Justice Scalia in the landmark and wrong-headed case that established a personal right to gun ownership (as opposed to being part of a "well-regulated militia") remarked that this right didn't extend to every type of gun. The court didn't, for example, overturn a long-standing federal ban on fully automatic machine guns. And if you want to be a strict constructionist about it, than let's extend the personal right to gun ownership to only those guns that were available in the late eighteenth century. The Founders couldn't anticipate the AR-15.
Right now, there are three million AR-15 style weapons in circulation in the U.S., and about 300 million guns overall. So isn't the cat out of the bag?
Yes, the cat is so far out of the bag that the bag has been lost. That doesn't mean we shouldn't start looking for the damn cat, though. Every one of these guns that isn't on the street or in somebody's closet is one less deadly virus in the air. It took us years to eradicate polio, and we should settle in for the same long haul here. And polio is a good analogy. Guns designed to efficiently kill people are a deadly disease that needs to be stamped out.
Aren't you going to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens?
Yes. All the shooters in the worst mass gun murders in recent U.S. history were law-abiding citizens until they weren't. None of the killers at Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown had criminal records. In fact, law-abiding citizen Nancy Lanza of Newtown was armed to her law-abiding teeth in a virtually crime-free community. She's dead now because her previously law-abiding son used her legally obtained and registered guns to shoot her in cold blood in her sleep.
Won't the government get a lot of people's guns only when it pries them from their cold, dead hands?
Nah, Charlton Heston was an actor and so he overdramatized everything. Here's how it might work. The law could go into effect twelve months after it passes. During that period, you could turn your gun in voluntarily and get paid for it. (By the way, this would stimulate the economy as useless, destructive products were turned into cash that could be reinvested in more productive goods and services.) After that, owning a semi-automatic would be illegal. We could grandfather in existing handgun owners, but you would have to pay an annual registration fee (just like you do for your car) and you could only sell the gun to the government. After some time, the cost of owning a handgun just wouldn't be worth it for millions of people. So, no, the government wouldn't bash down your door and take your gun, but if you were found to possess an illegal gun you'd lose the gun and be subject to a fine.
Won't this lead to tyranny?
No. They did this in England almost two decades ago, and believe it or not, they still have a functioning democracy. While the U.S. has by far the highest gun ownership rate in the world (88 per 100 residents), the others in the top ten are Serbia, Yemen, Switzerland, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Finland, Uruquay and Sweden. I don't detect any pattern related to freedom and democracy in that list. And, anyway, if it really gets to the point that I need a gun to defend my freedom, well, I would have already lost it a whole lot earlier.
Will this end all gun crime, mass gun murders, and suicides by gun?
Of course not. Even in countries with strong gun controls, there is still the occasional tragedy, such as the 2011 mass shooting in Norway. But over time, it will mean much less of this. Countries where it is hard to get a gun have much lower gun-related crimes and suicides. There are about 9,400 gun murders a year in the U.S. There are around a dozen in the United Kingdom and not many more in Japan. In fact, the country with the closest number of gun murders in the developed world is Germany with 249.
This is a public health threat. Guns designed to kill people are a virus. Let's not just throw up our hands and let this disease continue to kill our kids. Let's get control of the disease.