Safety is Not the Reason Democrats Are Pushing Gun Control

In his highly acclaimed book on the Left’s Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, Twelve Who Ruled, the late Yale historian Robert Roswell Palmer described the machinations of its demagogues. They were “less concerned to cure poverty than to exploit it,” “breathers of fire” who were “more inclined to love action for its own sake than to speculate on consequences,” and who thought their ideas should be imposed simply because they said so or because “evident truths needed no lengthy discussion.”

The same could be said about today’s gun control advocates who, since the multiple murder at a high school in Florida last month, have been demanding that Americans acquiesce to restrictions on the right to arms without regard for the restrictions’ practical, legal, and constitutional shortcomings.

There’s nothing new about most of the restrictions. Democrats in Congress have been demanding them for years. One would extend the federal firearm-sale background check requirement, which applies to all sales by firearm dealers, so that it would also apply to all sales by people who aren’t dealers. As a fallback position, some gun control supporters appear willing to settle, temporarily, for extending the requirement to only non-dealer sales at gun shows and intrastate non-dealer sales not conducted in-person. Interstate non-dealer sales are already prohibited.

Checks don’t prevent murders, for several reasons. First, the worst mass murders have been committed without guns. Second, one-third of all murders are committed without guns. Third, since 1998, when the background check system went into effect, most criminals who have used guns to commit mass murders passed the check to buy their guns, because they had no criminal, mental health, or other record that would have disqualified them from doing so. In only a relatively small number of cases were such criminals able to pass the check because, while they had a disqualifying record, someone had failed to upload it into the system’s database. Failures to upload such records are being addressed by congressional “Fix NICS” legislation, NICS being the National Instant Criminal Background Check System..

Fourth, aspiring mass murderers who want to use guns could do what a few of them have done and most other gun-using criminals do: avoid the background check. Studies by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over the last few decades have found that most gun-using criminals get guns by stealing them, buying stolen and illegally trafficked guns on the black market, or by having an accomplice—a “straw purchaser”—pass the background check and buy a gun for them. For this reason, “universal checks,” the name gun control activists have given to their background check scheme, is a misnomer, if ever there was one.

There’s also another potential problem with expanding the background check system. Despite the system’s many failures, gun control supporters push it because they think they might eventually be able to morph it into a gun registration database, which, as an anti-gun activist group opined at the outset of the modern gun control debate, could be used to enforce gun confiscation down the road.

Toward that end, several years ago, Democrats in both houses of Congress began introducing legislation to extend the period of time the FBI could retain the records of people who pass the check to buy guns. “Universal checks,” combined with permanent retention of those records and the records’ inclusion of the make, model, and serial number of guns purchased, received as gifts, or inherited would, over time, result in universal registration of guns, other than those in the hands of criminals who get guns without going through the check. Additional evidence that Democrats push gun control for reasons other than safety, is that they know the Supreme Court has ruled that criminals, lunatics, and other people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm cannot be compelled to register their firearms, because that would violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Because federal law already prohibits a firearm dealer from selling a handgun to anyone under age 21, another possible problem with requiring background checks on all firearm sales is that it might mean, depending on the details, that adults ages 18-20 would have no legal means of acquiring a handgun, which would amount to a handgun ban, and would likely run afoul of the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), that handgun bans are unconstitutional on Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.

To make matters worse for young adults, Democrats in Congress are also floating the idea of raising the minimum age, from 18 to 21, of a person to whom a firearm dealer may sell a rifle or shotgun. The Democrats’ notion that 18-20 year-olds do not have the judgment, maturity, or temperament to have any gun seems difficult to reconcile with two facts: First, persons of those ages marry without parental consent, raise children on their own, obtain driver’s licenses, vote, and in the military handle not only rifles, shotguns, and handguns, but heavier weapons aboard ships, submarines, and aircraft, as well as battle tanks and artillery, and responsibly perform numerous other duties that are crucial to the nation’s defense. Second, gun control supporters, including CNN and some of the other TV networks, have spent the last few weeks pretending that a handful of even younger teenagers have the judgment, maturity, and temperament to decide for the rest of us what the nation’s gun laws should be.

The age restriction and another of the Democrats’ proposals—to ban the manufacture of semi-automatic rifles and the ammunition magazines that many rifles and handguns use—should also be legally suspect for a reason that has two parts. First, under federal law, able-bodied males ages 17-45 who are not in the active duty armed forces or the National Guard constitute the unorganized component of the Militia of the United States and, as the Supreme Court said in U.S. v. Miller (1939), if called into service they would be “expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves.” Second, rifles are the type of firearm most useful for militia purposes, and the most useful rifles for most militia purposes today are those that Democrats in Congress are trying to ban.

A ban would also violate the Second Amendment for the same reason. The Court indicated in Miller that the amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms that have a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency” of the militia, including those the use of which “could contribute to the common defense.” In Heller, the Court misinterpreted Miller as saying that the amendment protects the right to only such arms as are “in common use.” The standard suggested by the Court in Miller is more narrow than the Framers of the Bill of Rights intended, and Heller’s pseudo-Miller standard is simply wrong, but both are easily met by the rifles and magazines the Democrats want to ban.

It should also be noted that the leader of congressional Democrats’ gun-banning efforts, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, essentially lied to President Trump during the president’s recent meeting with members of Congress to discuss school safety. She claimed that after her 1994 “ban” expired in 2004, mass murders with the guns she had tried to ban increased. The claim is a lie because her “ban” didn’t really ban any guns. Instead, it merely forced manufacturers to temporarily make the “banned” firearms without things like flash hiders and adjustable-length stocks. As a result, for example, over 730,000 AR-15s were made and sold in modified form during the 10 years the “ban” was in effect.

Moreover, as the ownership of those firearms and ammunition magazines has soared, violent crime, which began declining three years before Feinstein’s 1994 “ban” was imposed, continued to decline after the “ban” expired ten years later, and reached the lowest point in American history in 2014. Further, the FBI has reported for decades that only 2-3 percent of murders are committed with rifles of any kind, while one-third are committed without any firearm whatsoever. Democrats know this, but in the spirit of their Jacobin ideological forebears, they are less interested in preventing murders than in exploiting them for political gain.

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About Mark Overstreet

Mark Overstreet is a tactical firearm instructor and author in central Texas. In 2016, he retired from the National Rifle Association’s political division, the Institute for Legislative Action, as its Senior Research Coordinator, after 25 years with the organization. He is also a retired Army Reservist, who served for 23 years, including a deployment to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Navy Combat Cameraman. The author’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the NRA.