As expected, within the first few days of the new Congress, Democrats announced legislation designed to eventually lead to the confiscation of firearms best suited for defensive purposes: semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15, and—if they can get District of Columbia v. Heller overturned, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has advocated— handguns.
Last Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced her latest bill, co-sponsored by 27 other Democrat senators and Bernie Sanders, to ban new “assault weapons,” meaning mostly AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles. The bill would also ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Such magazines are designed for defensive purposes and are primarily used in semi-automatic rifles and handguns for that purpose.
Feinstein’s bill would allow existing owners to keep their firearms and magazines. However, no one should be fooled. As mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein banned handguns from that city entirely until her ban was struck down in court. Also, in 1995, talking about her first “assault weapon ban” on CBS “60 Minutes,” she said, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America turn them all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t there.”
Feinstein is playing the long game. She knows she doesn’t have the votes for gun confiscation now. However, on Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will resume their efforts to “expand” background checks on gun purchases and that is the first of several steps toward fundamentally transforming the background check system into a national gun registry that can be used to enforce gun confiscation, once Democrats have the votes for confiscation.
It’s Not About Crime
Even in a nation where Pollyannas believe facial recognition technology is designed to stop shoplifting, no one should be naïve enough to fall for Democrats’ pretenses that these bills are aimed at reducing crime. According to the FBI, rifles, of which AR-15s and rifles like them are a subset, are used in only two percent of murders, while roughly 30 percent of murders are committed without firearms of any type. More people are murdered with knives, more with bludgeons, and more by being beaten or kicked than with rifles of any type.
Also, studies by the Department of Justice (such as here, here, here, and here) have found that most criminals who use guns steal them, buy them on the black market, or get them with the help of a “straw purchaser,” the term for a fake buyer who passes the background check, buys the gun, and immediately hands it over to the criminal waiting in the parking lot.
There is an exception. Most mass murderers who use guns submit themselves to background checks. However, they pass them. As Northeastern University Professor James Alan Fox, the nation’s leading criminologist in the study of murder, has explained, “Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weapons legally.”
Additionally, if Democrats cared about reducing crime, they would support President Trump’s effort to prevent violent criminals from illegally entering our country across our southern border. After all, more people are murdered by illegal aliens than by anyone using any of the firearms Feinstein, other Democrats, and Sanders are proposing to ban.
It’s About Control
Crime statistics are beside the point, however. Governments don’t infringe the right to keep and bear arms to reduce crime. They do it to maintain their power over the ruled.
In the old days, at least, they were honest about it. As David B. Kopel, of the Independence Institute, noted in The Samurai, The Mountie, And The Cowboy, the 16th-century Japanese ruler Hideyoshi decreed, “The people in the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and tends to foment uprisings.”
Similarly, as George Mason University Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm has noted, “After the English Reformation [Catholics] were regarded as potential subversives, and as such were liable to have their arms impounded.” And just before the English civil wars, “Wails of despair were heard from city to city as the royal army confiscated public magazines and disarmed local residents. . . . Forewarned was forearmed, and from 1642 Englishmen learned to hide their firearms and to stockpile weapons.”
Closer to home, in 1775, English soldiers tried to confiscate colonists’ weapons in Concord not to reduce crime, but because the English had declared Massachusetts to be in rebellion. Similarly, in 1835, the war for Texas’ independence from Mexico began when the Mexican army, fearing rebellion against the dictator Santa Anna, demanded that the people of Gonzales, Texas, surrender their cannon, to which the Texians and Tejanos replied as did Spartan King Leonidas to Xerxes’ similar demand before the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.
Trying To Ban Semi-Automatic Rifles and Handguns For 85 Years
The late Jeff Cooper, a former Marine, the founder of the Gunsite Training Academy, and the originating force behind the modern defensive handgun technique wrote in The Art of The Rifle that “a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized.”
Democrats have known as much for a long time. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Firearms Act (NFA) which, among other things, required the registration, with the federal government, of any “machinegun,” defined to include only fully-automatic firearms, most of which are rifles.
However, as originally envisioned, the NFA would have banned “machineguns” altogether and defined such guns as any fully-automatic or semi-automatic firearm that could fire more than 12 shots without reloading. Such a definition would have included any fully-automatic or semi-automatic firearm (rifle, pistol, or even shotgun) that could use a detachable ammunition magazine, because a firearm that can use any detachable magazine can use one of any size. The NFA would also have required the registration of handguns, presumably those not banned as “machineguns.”
Fortunately, the Department of Justice opposed a ban on the grounds that it would have violated the Second Amendment. The idea that banning fully-automatic firearms is constitutional would have to wait until 2008, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would fabricate a rationale to that effect in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Also, the NFA’s definition of “machinegun” was changed to correctly exclude semi-automatics and the handgun registration requirement was dropped. Similarly, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, also signed by FDR, would have required the registration of handguns and licensing of handgun owners, but the version passed by Congress omitted those two restrictions.
If You Can’t Register Handguns, Just Ban Them
Until a few years ago, even though it should be obvious that laws are designed to control people, not inanimate objects, disarmament activists used the term “gun control” to describe laws that infringe the right to keep and bear arms.
Hence, the massive set of restrictions President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law in 1968 was called the Gun Control Act. Johnson complained that it didn’t require the registration of all guns and the licensing of all gun owners, but in 1974 the activists, convinced that the time was ripe for even more severe infringements than Johnson had envisioned, formed two groups: the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH), the name of which indicated its goal, and the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH).
Making clear what it meant by “control,” NCCH called for “a ban on the manufacture, sale, and importation of all handguns and handgun ammunition.” Realizing it had forgotten about people who already owned handguns, in 1976 it called for a law “to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition . . . totally illegal.” It also explained how it envisioned its goal being achieved:
The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition . . . totally illegal.
However, disarmament activists had a rough time in the 1970s and 1980s. Congress and the states refused to ban handguns. Handgun ban referenda were defeated in California and Massachusetts. Congress repealed the Gun Control Act’s requirement that buyers of handgun ammunition sign ledgers documenting their purchases. And Florida became the 11th state to adopt a fair system for issuing handgun carry permits.
So, in 1988, a former NCBH staffer formed his own group, calling it the New Right Watch, to indicate that he was watching the “right-wingers” who had been responsible for President Ronald Reagan’s 49-state victory in 1984. He had also worked for Amnesty International, which has long been involved in international civilian disarmament efforts at the United Nations. (After the collapse of the Soviet Union, broken-hearted leftists in the West who had campaigned for nuclear disarmament by the United States, Britain, and France, but not by the communists, needed another cause, turning first to “land mines,” then to to civilian disarmament and global warming.)
If You Can’t Ban Handguns, How About Rifles?
Immediately after setting up shop, the New Right Watch proposed that disarmament activists give up on handguns for the moment and switch to a new issue. It said:
Assault weapons [will] strengthen the handgun restriction lobby for the following reasons: It will be a new topic in what has become to the press and public an ‘old’ debate. . . . Handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. . . . Efforts to restrict assault weapons are more likely to succeed than those to restrict handguns.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Democrats’ all-out war to ban semi-automatic rifles, calling them “assault weapons” to make them sound scary, began the following year and has since been promoted by even more fake news than has been thrown at President Trump.
Firearm Registration In The Making
The Gun Control Act requires firearm dealers to maintain records of all firearm sales, including the identity of the purchaser and the make, model, and serial number of firearms purchased. However, the government is not entitled to those records unless for purposes of a specific criminal investigation.
That presented a problem for disarmament-minded Democrats soon after California banned “assault weapons” in 1989 and New Jersey banned “assault firearms” in 1990. Both states’ laws allowed existing owners to keep their guns, if they registered them within an amnesty period. However, only two percent of California’s owners and a similar percentage of New Jersey’s complied with the registration requirements. Since the guns had not been registered to start with, the state governments could not be sure where to look for them.
In 1993 and 1994, the Democrat Congress imposed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Brady bill, imposing a waiting period to “slow down” handgun purchases from dealers, and Feinstein’s “assault weapon ban,” which, fortunately, was written so incompetently that hundreds of thousands of rifles that she thought she had banned were manufactured and sold in a slightly modified form to comply with the law during the 10 years it was in effect. (Feinstein has since had someone rewrite her legislation to correct her initial deficiency.)
At first glance, the Brady bill might seem an outlier here, but it is instead central to the story. An amendment to the bill before final passage called for its waiting period to expire after five years and be replaced by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) with which we are stuck (until such time, if ever, we can get it abolished). Since 1998, a NICS check has been required on anyone who purchases any firearm from any federally licensed firearm dealer.
Disarmament activists, being slow on the up-take, initially opposed NICS, because they were fixated on the idea of a waiting period to “slow down” handgun sales. Most NICS checks are completed in a few minutes. Eventually, however, it dawned on them that they might be able to incrementally morph NICS into a national gun registry, the prerequisite the NCCH had envisioned for confiscation.
Toward that end, they began proposing to extend the check requirement to people who buy firearms at gun shows, from people who are not firearm dealers. Then they proposed to extend the requirement to anyone who buys a firearm from a person who is not a dealer, regardless of where the purchase takes place.
Checks, in and of themselves, do not achieve registration, of course. So, in 2009, one of the most aggressive disarmament supporters in Congress, the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), introduced legislation to allow the FBI to retain records of people who pass NICS checks. If checks were required on all purchasers, and all purchasers’ records were retained by the FBI, all that would remain for the system to become a national registry would be for the records to contain the make, model, and serial number of the firearm bought, the data currently kept by firearm dealers.
A bill like Feinstein’s and the one to “expand” background checks could easily pass the House of Representatives. Whether either would pass the Senate or be signed into law by President Trump would likely depend upon the circumstances. After two years of relative safety from Democrats’ disarmament agenda, the threat is back and it is more serious than it has been in a very long time.