The Commentary
The Gun Control debate.


Friday, August 15, 2003  

Some Answers

You wrote: "(T)he fact is that, without going back in time and interviewing the people who wrote the Constitution to find out what their intention was, the argument will never be settled."

Well, not quite. All you've got to do is read what they wrote and apply a little logic. But I'll concede that on this topic we'll have to agree to leave you at least ambivalent.

You wrote: "I know you disagree with the competence thing, but I'm going to stick to my guns (or, rather, I would if I had any!) on this one, because I've been stood beside someone on a pistol range who wasn't quite competent to handle her weapon and I really didn't like it."

I don't like it either, but I've yet to see a way to require "proof of competence" that couldn't also be used to eventually eliminate private ownership - or at least make it so onerous as to accomplish the same thing. My point concerning US laws versus English laws was this: We have a large population of people who own guns. Trying to establish "competence" standards for possession would be ridiculous and would be resisted. England has accomplished, through over 80 years of ever-increasing gun control, a very tiny population of gun owners who would view "competency testing" as just one more hurdle to overcome in order to keep the weapons that the government hasn't already taken from them. NEW gun owners would see it as just another hurdle to (legal) acquisition.

Pie-in-the-sky? Yes, it would be wonderful if I didn't have to fear that my right to arms would be stripped from me because other people are morons, but that's not the case. So, if it were possible to expand an English subject's access to firearms (of whatever type) through competency testing, I'd be all for it (because I believe that all human beings have a right to defend themselves, and that a firearm is the best tool to do that in most circumstances.) But I view any imposition of "competency testing" on Americans as another effort to reduce our right to a government-regulated priviledge, and oppose it.

You asked, after your hypothetical list: "Assuming that everything was legally water-tight to prevent the government from amending the restrictions to contravene the spirit of the rules (e.g. they couldn't decide to amend the exclusions to add "people who failed to graduate from high school" or something stupid like that), would you go for that?"

I must answer "No." Because there is nothing "water-tight" about the law. The rest of your post relates to competence being a requirement. If you wanted to implement something along those lines in England (thus expanding access to subjects) I would think it a great step forward. If you wanted to implement something like that here, I'd object because it's a great slide down the slippery slope.

Let me say this: I have seen people on the range who bother me because they don't know what they're doing. When I can, I try to rectify the situation, but sometimes (especially out shooting in the desert rather than on a public range) I'd rather just pick up my stuff and leave. Given the extremely large number of people here that own guns, the morons must not be that dangerous because the number of accidental fatal shootings here has been going down every year since we started keeping records. Not in deaths per 100,000 population, either - the total number. In 2001 there were 776 accidental deaths by firearm, mostly hunting accidents. Out of a population of 275 million people, and about that many firearms, that's a remarkably low number IMHO.

So "competence" doesn't seem, to me, to be that big a problem.

posted by Kevin | 02:43


Monday, August 11, 2003  

Both.

Look, you're obviously going to stick to your guns (no pun intended) on your right to bear arms.

You've made good arguments against my assertion that the right pertains to people who are members of a militia. I've gotta say that you haven't fully convinced me, but the fact is that, without going back in time and interviewing the people who wrote the Constitution to find out what their intention was, the argument will never be settled.

So, let's set aside that argument (which we can do at this point, because I'm effectively accepting the lack of a link between the right to keep and bear arms and membership of a militia) and concentrate on what we think would be an ideal level of gun control. The fact is, I agree with you on things like the tax on short shotguns. Taxing something in that manner is indeed a sneaky and underhand way of legislating against it.

Reading about the Montana concealed-carry rules and thinking about the "shall issue" idea has led me to embrace the "shall-issue" concept - i.e. that, as long as you are not a criminal, insane, etc. and you're able to show that you're competent with the weapon you wish to bear, the authorities shouldn't be able to refuse to allow you to bear a weapon.

I know you disagree with the competence thing, but I'm going to stick to my guns (or, rather, I would if I had any!) on this one, because I've been stood beside someone on a pistol range who wasn't quite competent to handle her weapon and I really didn't like it. I don't want to end up with a bullet in me just because some fuckwit is able to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, contrary to all common sense, and ends up NDing into my gut.

In my opinion, competence should be one of the "bare minimum restrictions on that right". However, I do see your point that, if the authorities have the power to define the level of competence you have to display, they could, in theory, simply raise the level of "competence" required to the level where it becomes impractical. The only suggestion I can make here is that the level of competence should be the same as that required of soldiers and/or police.

Let me ask you a question. Obviously, you're not too happy with the status quo, as it stands. You think that, over the years, legislation has been introduced which you'd rather hadn't been, like the assault weapons ban, the tax on shotguns, discretionary issue of concealed-carry permits in some states, all that stuff.

How about if you were offered a deal, whereby you had the opportunite to scrap those restrictions and replace them with the kind if restrictions I'm in favour of:

  • A shall-issue permit, in the form of a stamp on a piece of state-based, difficult-to-forge identification (i.e. your idea for the concealed-carry permit).
  • The exclusions (i.e. felons, drug addicts, etc.) from the Montana concealed-carry legislation.
  • A requirement to have passed a competence test like in Montana (i.e. the course and test can be one of a number, including ones run by, for example, the NRA) which is linked in a watertight manner to army/police competence (i.e. so that the government couldn't up the level of competence required for citizens wishing to keep and bear arms, without upping the level of competence required of the armed forces and/or police).
  • Concealed-carry as default (i.e. no extra permit).
  • Differenciation between different types of weapons (so, having passed a competence test with a shotgun doesn't automatically mean you're allowed to carry a pistol - you'd have to pass a pistol competence test first).
  • An appeals process to an appropriately independent body (e.g. the courts), whereby people who don't qualify for the "shall-issue" permit are allowed to apply for a discretionary one.
  • The classifications of weapons (i.e. no limits on short barrels, no magazine capacity limits), restrictions on, fully-auto, crew-served wepons, mortars, grenade launchers, etc. and the links between ownership of such restricted weapons and the liability of call-up for the unorganised militia, which you outlined below
Assuming that everything was legally water-tight to prevent the government from amending the restrictions to contravene the spirit of the rules (e.g. they couldn't decide to amend the exclusions to add "people who failed to graduate from high school" or something stupid like that), would you go for that?

I'm toying with the idea of not actually requiring a stamp on your ID. So, let's say a police officer stops me in the street and I'm carrying a gun. He checks my driving licence, but there's no firearms permit stamp on. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm breaking the law.

I would only be breaking the law if I was explicitly excluded from carrying a weapon for certain reasons - e.g. convicted of a felony, outstanding arrest warrant (in which case, don't forget that I'm about to get arrested anyway!), a drug addict, dishonorably discharged from the military; or convicted in the last five years of violating statutes that prohibit carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence, or in a prohibited place, such as a government building, bank, or bar.

I'm kind of tempted to exclude being a drug addict in that list, but I'm not sure. I certainly wouldn't include mentally ill, mentally defective, or mentally disabled, because that implies that the person isn't necessarily responsible for their own actions (including acquiring a gun). I'm thinking that such people would simply have the weapon confiscated and maybe quizzed about how they acquired it, in case someone else had committed a straw man crime in giving it to them, or in case a gunshop-owner had broken the rules by failing to carry out a background check or whatever. So, basically, you wouldn't lock up a mentally ill person for possessing a gun, but you might take some form of action against the gunshop-owner who sold them it (on the basis that they obviously failed to carry out a proper background check) or the person who gave it to them (straw-man offence).

So, going back to the cop who stopped me on the street. He confirms that I'm not any of the above, so that's all fine. He then could, if he wanted, require that I prove my competence. He could conduct the test himself and confiscate my weapon if I fail, but, to forestall the danger of asshole cops going around failing people on their competence tests unjustly, he has to give me a receipt for the confiscated weapon and I can reclaim it by proving my competence within a certain amount of time (e.g. six months), either by attempting another competence test at the police station, or (and again, this forestalls a whole team of asshole cops conspiring against someone) by doing a competence course and test somewhere else (e.g. my local NRA club), and bringing the certificate and receipt to the police station to reclaim my weapon. There would be no adverse consequences to failing an on-the-spot competence test, apart from having your weapon confiscated temporarily - i.e. when you prove your competence, you can reclaim your weapon and that's the end of it; your name doesn't go on any list or anything like that.

By having that sort of thing, you're not requiring that people get their ID stamped in the first place, which some might equate to licencing (notwithstanding the fact that it's shall-issue) or registration, and I acknowledge (although I don't necessarily agree with it) your opposition to the idea of licencing - i.e. 'If it requires a license, it's not a right.' - and fear that a list of gun-owners could be used to confiscate their weapons.

There might be some sticky issues around how people who don't get their ID stamped actually get a weapon, but I'm certain there would be a way around it. The rules might say that a gunshop owner is "required to satisfy himself that the buyer is competent". That way, he can cover his ass by requiring that they have the stamp on their ID or a certificate of some kind, but he can also trust to his own judgement if he wants to. However, if he trusts to his own judgement and that person then has their weapon confiscated for failing a competence test, he may get a warning from his licencing authority; if he does it several times, he might receive a rap on the knuckles and have to explain himself; if he's a persistent offender, he might be fined or have his licence to sell firearms restricted (so that he can only sell firearms to people who have either a stamp on their ID or a 3rd party certificate), suspended or revoked.

How does that sound?

posted by Jack | 14:46
archives