Association News: March 2001

By Larry Pratt

Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Well, amen! How true. And a current example that proves, with a vengeance, what Brandeis feared, is a bill (S.2099) introduced by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) which would, among other things, tax and register our handguns.

His legislation would treat handguns much as machine guns: (1) require the registration of handguns in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer record; (2) provide for the sharing of registration information with Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies; (3) provide for the imposition of the five dollar transfer tax on handguns and a $50 tax on the making of each handgun.

To be sure, Reed is well-meaning and zealous. But, in an interview with the Rhode Island Democrat, it becomes obvious that when it comes to “gun control” and the Second Amendment to our Constitution, he is without understanding. And this is why he is so dangerous to our liberties. Following are some excerpts from the interview with Sen. Reed:

Q: What evidence would you cite that any gun control law has ever worked?

A: “Well, I think some evidence is the original Federal laws that regulate the registration of machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers. There’s not a proliferation of those weapons on our streets, not anything compared to the handguns that are awash in the United States.

“And there is no evidence that these weapons have been confiscated arbitrarily. In fact, there are legitimate bona fide gun owners that have these weapons and fire them regularly, as they are registered. So, that’s an example of one that works. The Brady background check is....”

Q: OK. But, let’s stop on this one. Is there a study you can refer me to that shows the registration law you just mentioned actually reduced crime?

A: “Uhhh, I think... we’ll certainly look for a study. But I would guess this is more on the order of observation and what’s going around. I mean, frankly, it is the rare exception when someone has an automatic weapon, a machine-gun, really.”

Q: But, do you know of any evidence that this registration law you mention has reduced machine-gun crime? I didn’t know there was a lot of this.

A: “Well, back in 1930 was when the law was passed. This law has been on the books for 60 years. I don’t think most people realize that. They assume that there’s never been any registration of weapons at the Federal level, that this is a bold and novel approach when in fact Congress more than 60 years ago... simply said, ‘This is a threat to the public safety and we’re going to stop it.’”

Q: You don’t think Al Capone really obeyed that law do you?

A: “Uhhh, well, you know, if he didn’t he would have gone to jail on that as well as tax evasion.”

Note: Several weeks after this interview, Reed’s office failed to produce any evidence that the anti-machine gun law he mentions had any impact on the crime rate.

Q: Brady. You were going to mention the Brady Law.

A: “I think the Brady bill has shown a reduction in... I don’t know if you can make the correlation to a reduction in crime [which has been reduced] because of difficult measures. But, what Brady has uncovered is a number of felons who were trying to purchase weapons... and they have been prevented from doing that. In that sense, it’s been successful.”

Q: I press you on this gun control laws issue because my pre-supposition is that behind all such laws is the desire to reduce crime, reduce the illegal use of guns, right?

A: “The idea is to reduce violent gun crime.”

Q: Yeah, that’s what I mean.

A: “Yeah, yeah.”

Q: The Journal of the American Medical Association has recently published a detailed study which shows there is no evidence the Brady Law has had any effect on gun crime, on homicides. Are you familiar with this study?

A: “I’ll become familiar with it. We’ve seen a decline in violent crime....”

Q: Which started before Brady, actually.

A: “Yeah. And I would be the first to say that crime is not a single factor phenomenon. It’s a whole bunch of things. But, again, in trying to be not as analytical and scientific, but just in terms of human behavior, the ease of obtaining weapons is such that there’s a higher likelihood that something before, you know, a scuffle between kids could escalate now to a shoot-out.

“A lot of this is anecdotal. But, up in Rhode Island, about a year ago, two kids out rough-housing....”

Q: How old? What are you calling a kid?

A: “Sixteen or 17. They were rough-housing. Somebody’s pride was injured... somebody in the crowd, because of the ease of getting handguns, kid pulls a gun out and shoots seriously injuring one individual. And then [the shooter] takes his own life.”

Q: I think anecdotes are important. They are real life. But, what law would have stopped this?

A: “Well, I, you know....”

Q: I don’t think any law would have stopped that.

A: “Well, no, I think... if there is a registration law — if someone gets a gun without registering it they’re a criminal by definition.”

Q: But, criminals are not going to commit crimes with guns registered in their own names.

A: “Well, but the point is, and one of the points of this legislation (S. 2099) is that this will allow law enforcement officials to better be able to trace weapons used by criminals in crime.

“And I think the proto-typical person that we all want to see exercise their rights as Americans to... and one right is to own weapons — are homeowners, people who are recreational shooters or hunters, those people will register their weapons, et cetera.

“But, frankly, if a police officer comes across a crime scene, and there is a weapon, he now has a much faster and better way to trace that weapon. Oh, and by the way, if he observes someone who is involved in some type of criminal activity or probable cause to suspect, and the weapon is not registered, that person is guilty of another crime.”

Q: But, if we agree, as we did earlier, that gun-control laws are supposed to stop crime, your supposed benefits of registration come after a crime is committed. So what? So what if you find out who a gun is registered to? I know of no evidence that registration has prevented crime. Do you?

A: “The point is to have a system in which police can trace weapons more quickly, that criminals... this raises the barrier for them to get weapons. And then you have to make an assessment whether that’s high enough to deter all gun crime. Frankly, it would be naive to say that. But, I....”

Q: But, when has a registration law ever reduced violent gun crime?

A: “Well, I would say the law we have on the books now on registration has significantly limited access by criminals and other people to machine guns, silencers, and sawed-off shotguns without effecting the rights of law-abiding Americans to own these weapons. This might be the only correlation you can safely make.

“Here’s the scenario (re: S. 2099): This law passes and some law-abiding American registers their handgun at home. There’s a domestic dispute and someone uses the weapon to hurt someone else.

“You would ask, ‘Has this law stopped crime?’ And I’d agree the gun-crime was not stopped. But what it might have stopped... or at least impeded... is someone stealing that gun and selling it to somebody else and no one knowing any the wiser about it. Or someone breaking in and taking the gun, et cetera. So, I mean, you know....”

Q: But, why would your registration law stop a thief from breaking in and stealing a gun since the gun would not be registered in the name of the thief? Why would a thief care about this?

A: “I think they’d care just like someone who goes in and steals a car that is registered. There’s a record of who owns that car and they ain’t the one who owns it.”

Q: But, why would a criminal care if the gun he steals is registered to someone else?

A: “[The gun] would be less easily disposable if there is a registration system.”

Q: But would a criminal really commit a crime with a gun registered in his own name?

A: “Uh, but that might be another disincentive to committing the crime. I mean, you have this theory that hardened criminals are going to get weapons any way they can.”

Q: Sure.

A: “Kill anybody they can, etc. And they’ll never take into consideration what the law is.”

Q: Right. And that’s why they are criminals! Because they don’t care what the law says!

A: “No, they do in fact consider how to get around the laws, how to break them without getting caught. And frankly [registration] is another way, like giving the police authority to register automobiles and more of an ability to trace stolen vehicles and a sense that people don’t just casually borrow cars because, you know, it could have been their’s. No one knows.”

Q: Your car-gun registration analogy is interesting. But, I wonder if registration has actually deterred car theft since within hours after many cars are stolen they are chopped up and sold for parts and/or they are on a boat being shipped to Brazil.

A: “But, I think your premise is that no gun-control laws have ever had any effect on crime or the level of violence in the country.”

Q: Exactly. But, the burden of proof is on those who argue that gun-control laws have been effective.

A: “The burden of proof is on those who say we should do nothing when 30,000 Americans die annually by gunfire... and in every other industrial society in the world where they have much more stringent gun-control laws you do not have this phenomenon of gun violence.”

Q: Do you agree that under the Second Amendment individuals have the right to keep and bear arms?

A: “In what, I mean... subject to regulation, yeah. Frankly, I think there’s a very strong argument that the Amendment as originally constituted had to do about the arming of militias. But, at this point in time, I think practice and custom and the history of the country suggests that access to weapons by individuals is something that would be Constitutionally protected. The question is: ‘How can we regulate that access?’”

Q: What would you say to someone who would say that what you are advocating [in S. 2099] are the kinds of infringement the Second Amendment prohibits? Aren’t registration of and taxing of guns an infringement on the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms?

A: “I would say no, not at all. In fact, history suggests that we do it all the time. We’ve been....”

Q: Well, there’s no doubt Congress has been violating our Constitutional rights for a long time!

A: “I would suspect also that the courts have looked at this question and consistently upheld these firearms laws, particularly the registration law.”

See what I mean? Sen. Jack Reed is without understanding. He has no evidence that any “gun control” laws have ever worked. He’s obviously not familiar with the most detailed study which shows that Brady has been a flop. Nor is he familiar with the rise in violent crime in England following its gun ban.

He’s introducing a law which clearly “infringes” on our rights under the Second Amendment. But, he denies that taxing and registering are infringements! The Senator is precisely the kind of person Associate Justice Brandeis warned us about.

[Larry Pratt is Executive Director of Gun Owners of America located at 8001 Forbes Place, Springfield, VA 22151 and at http://www.gunowners.org on the web.]

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N6 (March 2001)
and was posted online on July 25, 2014


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