As some of you may know, I am an attorney by trade. I am also the father of twins who will be 6 in February. Oh, and incidentally, one of my best college friends is a high school teacher in Newtown, Connecticut. So I've been emotionally invested in the aftermath of the massacre there on a number of levels. But I've also spend a fair amount of time thinking about what--in a perfect world--the federal government might do to effectively prevent the next such tragedy now that finally, finally there appears to be a measure of political will to take on the lobby of the merchants of death--the NRA.
This diary is an exercise in what I would do, acknowledging the following premises:
(1) The Second Amendment is not going anywhere. Therefore, anything proposed must at least arguably be compatible with it.
(2) All guns are dangerous. The more efficient the gun in terms of the number of bullets it can shoot without reloading, the more dangerous it is.
(3) The only legitimate positive societal benefit of private ownership of any firearms is the recreational pleasure hunters get from their hobby. The "self defense" and "bulwark against tyranny" premises are both bunk--the former based on the stats that guns kept in self-defense are more likely to be used on the owner or a family member than an intruder and the latter based on "are you fucking insane?" Much ink has been spilled on this debate. I bring it up only to explain where I am coming from in making the following proposals.
(4) Human life has a high value. Therefore, the arguments about how one is more statistically likely to drown or be hit by lightning than be a mass shooting victim do not move me. If a measure saves a single life, it is probably worth it since the only reason NOT to take it is whatever marginal hardship it causes on hunters' recreation.
My thoughts, for what they're worth, under the fold.
1. To be effective, any measure need be universal; no loopholes. One of the talking points proponents of doing nothing use is that the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban was "ineffective." This can devolve into arguments over the use of statistics. I am uninterested in said arguments for two reasons: First, the con argument is not that the prior ban had no effect, but that it had a smaller effect than it should have had or that proponents claimed it would have. Given premises 3 and 4, however, that is basically a nonissue; there is essentially no good reason for private ownership of military assault weapons, so therefore no societal cost to banning them. Any benefit great or small, therefore, is worth it. Second, however, is that the prior ban was riddled with loopholes and exceptions. Therefore, anything banned need to be done clearly and broadly enough such that cosmetic differences in the technology do not allow for essentially the same gun sought to be banned to meet the legal definition.
2. Bans are not the only tool to be utilized. Gun control efforts have historically gravitated toward either "possession or sale of x type of weapon or y type of ammunition is illegal and subject to criminal sanction" or "guns are not allowed within the confines of z." These type of restrictions are the most open to Constitutional attack because a ban is the easiest thing to argue infringes on a right. My proposal would be that a class of guns/magazines/ammunition be banned--which are the subject of the developing Senate legislation--but also that what is not banned is regulated. Therefore, there really ought to be a two-pronged approach: decide on a line of demarcation and everything on one side of the line is made illegal; everything on the other side is regulated.
3. Treat illegal weapons/ammunition like crack and child molestation. The penalties for possession and sale of whatever ends up getting banned--including what is already illegal--needs to be sufficiently severe to induce the large number of people who currently own such weapons (and who, due to our refusal to track such weapons up to now, are unknown to the authorities) to turn them in. In other words, I would recommend mandatory minimums of at least 10 years per illegal weapon. I would also implement a registry like the sex offender registry to alert neighborhood members that a violator of dangerous weapons laws lives among them. Only through draconian measures will deadender paranoid weapon stockpilers like Nancy Lanza cooperate. As for where that line ought to be, I'd recommend banning anything that (1) shoots a lot of bullets rapidly and (2) can shoot lots of bullets without requiring reloading. As has been discussed quite a bit, the reason that Jared Loughner was captured and stood trial rather than killing the number of people he wanted to to get his rocks off and then turning the gun on himself as per usual is because he had to stop to reload, giving people an opportunity to tackle him. Obviously, "lots" and "rapidly" need to be quantified, and I'm happy to leave that to people with more technical knowledge than I. But I do think that defining things this way--by weapon capability--avoids most of the definitional bait and switch that goes into trying to define an "assault weapon."
4. Treat the remaining legal guns like cars. Everything that falls on the "legal" side of the line nonetheless remains an inherently dangerous item. One of the standard pro-do-nothing lines is that cars kill more people than guns do. Yes. True. Cars are treated as potentially dangerous possessions requiring regulation. So, too, guns. In order to own a car, an American must record the title of the car with the state. Any change of ownership requires re-recording. If a car is stolen, the owner is required to report it and faces penalties if he does not do so. Cars in active use need to be registered with the state and that registration annually renewed. Most important, every car owner is required to purchase and maintain liability insurance. Rates, of course, are set by the market and reflect the risk in terms of dollars that the car owner will use his car to cause injury or property damage. Moreover, in order to use a car, one must be of a required age and pass a safe usage test. Liability is many circumstances strict--in most states, if a motorist strikes a pedestrian, the motorist is always liable. If the motorist hits another car while backing up, he is always liable, and so on.
I would do all of this for gun ownership. If a gun causes and injury or is used in a crime, the owner is strictly liable. Hence the liability insurance and its attendant costs. Every gun should be registered, with chain of title maintained, and annually renewed. Gun ownership licenses, likewise, should be subject to renewal and forfeiture for noncompliance with the law, just like driver's licenses.
5. If iPhones can be universally located by GPS, so can guns. I also think that manufacturers should be required to put GPS chips in all new firearms, as well as engraving serial numbers where they cannot be tampered with without destroying the gun. This will be a great aid in determining fault for crimes--as well as recovering stolen guns. It also may be possible to require all bullets to be unique and trackable. This would probably be the greatest advance in crime solving since the discovery of fingerprints. Body on the ground with three bullets in it; a quick check in the database shows that the bullets were sold at the Spokane Dick's Sporting Goods to George Brill, who happens to be the victim's estranged spouse.
I'm interested in your thoughts. Ultimately, I think we need to promote specific things we'd like to see in interactions with members of Congress rather than just the general "let's start a dialogue." A dialogue, as we've seen, can go any number of different ways, including toward "Grand Theft Auto" and armed school guards. Your thoughts are welcome.