By Larry Pratt, Executive Director, Gun Owners of America
Gun owners have rightly rejoiced that the Sheriffs’ case was affirmed by the Supreme Court, and that part of the Brady Law being contested was overturned.
Twice in as many years the Court has ruled that Congress does not have the authority to enact gun control. In particular, the Congressional claim of authority has been based on the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8. The Court has said that there was no commerce involved in gun control, thus the Tenth Amendment requires declaring Congress’ efforts at gun control unconstitutional.
The Sheriffs took that part of the Brady Law to court where they had standing — where the Court would have to agree that they were directly involved. Thus, the Sheriffs complained that the Constitution forbids Congress from making them involuntary agents of the government of the United States.
Many people, including many gun owners, are rushing to conclude from all this that states should authorize background checks so that all gun buyers will have their names checked against a computerized criminal data base in Washington (and eventually in each of the 50 states). Nothing could be more unproductive, unconstitutional or ill-advised.
The Brady Law resulted nationally in seven prosecutions and three incarcerations in its first year of operation. These cases could have been prosecuted without the Brady Law. Others who were stopped could easily have obtained a gun the same day from some place other than a store. According to Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, the state spent nearly $1,000,000 stopping 327 would-be purchasers who could have gotten their gun elsewhere. Since the murder rate in the U.S. began its present decline starting in 1991, it can hardly be said that the Brady Law has contributed to the decline, even less by taking three criminals off the streets.
The instant check is nothing but a request for government permission to exercise a constitutionally protected liberty that, according to the Second Amendment, “shall not be infringed.” Thankfully we have not come to the point of asking permission to give a speech, write an editorial or deliver a sermon, but that is the equivalent of the Brady Law’s permitting system regarding the Second Amendment.
Some argue that, regarding the First Amendment, we cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. True, but we don’t issue muzzles on entering the theater. We only punish those who abuse the liberty. So it should be in the case of the Second Amendment as well.
Legislators in Ohio have learned that the national Brady check is actually an Instant Registration Check. When names are checked against the federal data base, all names (with their social security numbers) are coded to indicate that they are gun owners. Quite simply, in spite of the toothless prohibition in Brady, a national gun owner registration list is being compiled. Virtually none of these folks are criminals. Why then are their names being stored as gun owners?
One answer is suggested by the experience of New York City. Some thirty years ago, all rifles and shotguns had to be registered. About five years ago, many semi-automatics were banned. The gun owners were trapped. The Constitution guarantees their right to have those firearms, but the city is in a position to jail anyone exercising his or her constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Arrests have been made of grandfathered people who owned guns that were legal (and registered) before the law was changed.
Gun owners are the last ones who should be urging the imposition of the Brady Law in all the states. The Brady Instant Registration Check is the Trojan Horse that the gun banners will use later on to grab the people’s firearms. Brady needs to be repealed at the state and national levels, not imposed in those states still lacking such a terrible law.
Protecting the Second Amendment will be much easier when advocates of constitutionally protected liberties consistently defend the right to keep and bear arms. The most consistent position for defending firearms for personal defense is right-to-carry legislation modeled after the Vermont law. In Vermont, there are no licenses, permits or other government intrusions infringing on the right to carry a concealed firearm. The law essentially says that it is illegal to carry a firearm, concealed or openly, for the purpose of criminally injuring another person.
Vermont’s law highlights the radical anti-gun nature of the Instant Registration Check in the Brady Law. Just to buy a gun, one must seek government permission. In Vermont, one can both buy and carry a gun with no state government involvement whatsoever. Of course, since the federal government decided to embark on a series of unconstitutional, and therefore, illegitimate adventures in civilian disarmament, Vermonters have been hampered to the extent that they could not escape the reach of Washington.
Vermont’s murder rate is, almost every year, the lowest in the country. Those pushing for civilian disarmament say that Vermont has such a low rate because it is a rural population. But since last year, the anti-gunners have been countered by the overwhelming weight of the evidence amassed by Dr. John Lott at the University of Chicago. Lott took the crime data of every city and county in the U.S. for the previous sixteen years and analyzed the data in terms of poverty, density of population, arrest rates, sentencing rates and lengths among other variables. The one factor that consistently correlated in a positive fashion with crime rates was whether a state recognized or not the right of a citizen to carry a concealed firearm.
Lott’s study showed that states which passed concealed carry laws reduced their murder rate by 8.5%, rapes by 5%, aggravated assaults by 7% and robbery by 3%. If those states not having concealed carry laws had adopted such laws in 1992, then approximately 1570 murders, 4177 rapes, 60,000 aggravated assaults and 12,000 robberies would have been avoided yearly.
Before the imposition of the Brady Law on the whole country, about half of the states had a waiting period, the rest did not violate their citizens’ constitutional rights in that way. The violent crime rates were higher in the states with waiting periods. In fact, California, with its 15 day waiting period, had a murder rate 25% over that of the rest of the country.
Two states can illustrate this clearly. In 1976, both Georgia and Wisconsin tried two different approaches to fighting crime. Georgia enacted legislation making it easier for citizens to carry guns for self-defense, while Wisconsin passed a law requiring a 48 hour waiting period before the purchase of a handgun. What resulted during the ensuing years? Georgia’s law served as a deterrent to criminals and helped drop its homicide rate by 21 percent. Wisconsin’s murder rate, however, rose 33 percent during the same period.
There is no doubt that waiting periods kill. For example, Bonnie Elmasri inquired about getting a gun to protect herself from a husband who had repeatedly threatened to kill her. She was told there was a 48 hour waiting period to buy a handgun. But unfortunately, Bonnie was never able to pick up a gun. She and her two sons were killed the next day by an abusive husband of whom the police were well aware.
Conversely, Marine Cpl. Rayna Ross bought a gun (in a non-waiting period state before the imposition of Brady) and used it to kill an attacker in self-defense two days later. Had a 5-day waiting period been in effect, Ms. Ross would have been defenseless against the man who was stalking and seeking to kill her.
Waiting periods are unconstitutional. They are a prior restraint on the exercise of a constitutionally protected (not granted) right. The Supreme Court has ruled (Near v. Minnesota) that government officials should punish the abuse of a right and not place prior restraints on the exercise of the right. That is why it is illegal to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but we do not issue muzzles to theatergoers as they enter. Obviously, the same principle applies to firearms. It is illegal to criminally injure another person, but prior restraint should be as prohibited under the Second Amendment as it is under the First.
Having said that, the danger of the waiting period is far less than that of the Instant Registration Check. The Brady Instant Registration Check is building (right now) a national, centralized, computerized registration list of gun owners. As Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership have shown from their definitive study of genocide in this century (Lethal Laws: “Gun Control” Is the Key to Genocide), genocide invariably is preceded by gun control. Once the identification of gun owners is in place, the thugs in power (a.k.a. the government) confiscate firearms. (In Ruwanda, they also confiscated machetes.) Then the slaughter of the target population can begin — Jews in Nazi Germany, Ukrainians and others in Soviet Russia, Christians in Uganda, Indians in Guatemala, the educated in Cambodia and so forth.
The figures are in. Before this century has ended, governments have slaughtered their tens of millions, the Al Capones their scores and hundreds. Yet Sarah Brady, Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and the other advocates of civilian disarmament breeze right on past the killing fields of our recent past. They also overlook the massive threat to personal security posed by center-city street gangs. Instead, their desire is to convince us all that it is the guns of the erstwhile victims that are at fault — decent people wishing to protect themselves from the criminals set loose on our streets by our government. We are watching a monumental shifting of the blame from those who have brought us a failed system of criminal justice. They want us to look not at murderers put out on the street. Rather than blame murderers, blame guns we are told.
Our answer to the civilian disarmament crowd has to be that crime is their fault, not gun owners. Gun control laws kill. When stating our position we must not fall into the trap of agreeing to policies, such as the Instant Registration Check, that make disarmament possible. We should press on for what we want — the free exercise of a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. After all, we will never get more than we ask for.
Gun controllers are the friends of criminals and the enemies of freedom. They arrogantly assume that only they (and their buddies in the government) are responsible enough to be trusted with guns. The watchword should be that guns save lives, gun control kills. And the Instant Registration Check is gun control — a threat to every gun owner.
To get information on how to fight the Instant Registration Check, call Gun Owners of America’s toll free phone: 1-888-886-GUNS (4867).
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N3 (December 1997)