Entries in gun control (1)



I have been thinking a lot about guns and gun control. I’ve been thinking about this subject for years, but more so lately. With the energy for change brought on by the teenagers of Parkland Florida I thought I’d share an idea.

There is talk of reinstating the assault weapons ban. I am not all in on that, for a number of reasons.

First, an assault weapons ban leaves out pistols, a category of firearms that accounts for ten times more killings than rifles and shotguns combined. Semiautomatic pistols have eclipsed revolvers as the crime handgun of choice.

Second, the very term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” is a technically vague term. I could point to semiautomatic rifles that are functionally the same as what we might call an assault rifle, but due to irrelevant details aren’t included in that category.

Third, even with the momentum behind the movement at the moment, an absolute ban has a near impossible road to enactment. The NRA has spent decades disseminating effective propaganda, and American public opinion has shifted in their favor. An absolute ban gets a 67% approval rating in the most recent Pew poll, but would be a non-starter in Congress.

I’d like to propose a definition and a procedure that would address most of the concerns and risks we now face, without enacting a de jure ban.

Undergirding this proposal would be the passage of a federal law requiring universal background checks for any firearm transfers. This has a real chance of passage, at least after the 2018 midterms. It got an approval rating of 97% percent in a recent poll, even among gun owners. Even NRA members approve of it, with about 85% support. Without universal background checks any other laws would be pointless.

First, the definition: S-7-170. This refers to the three factors that make military style semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic pistols uniquely dangerous:

Semiautomatic mechanism. This allows the shooter to fire as fast as he can move his finger on the trigger.

High capacity magazine. Aftermarket magazines are available for most semiautomatic firearms that allow upwards of 100 shots without reloading. Twenty and thirty round magazines are common, and available even for handguns. Jared Laughner, who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 12 others, used a pistol with an extended magazine.

High powered cartridge. The lethality of a firearm, accuracy and rate of fire aside, is defined by muzzle energy. That is, the amount of force that can be imparted by the bullet at the time it leaves the firearm, generally expressed in foot-pounds. That can mean a large bullet travelling relatively slowly, or as with an AR-15 firing a 5.56mm round, a small bullet travelling extremely fast.

S-7-170 specifies a firearm that has a semiautomatic action, can fire 7 shots or more without reloading, and fires a cartridge having more than 170 foot pounds of muzzle energy. The semiautomatic part needs no explanation, but here’s the reasoning behind the 7-170.

There are semiautomatic hunting rifles that have internal (non-removable) magazines that hold five or six cartridges. After firing those, the hunter has to push cartridges one by one into the rifle from the top. That takes time. It wouldn’t be the weapon of choice for a mass shooter, or even your average criminal. If even these semiautomatic firearms were severely restricted there would be resistance from the hunting community, which otherwise might be willing to put up with a law aimed at high capacity firearms.

There is a small cartridge commonly used for target shooting called a 22 rimfire. It comes in “short”, “long”, and “long rifle.” It could be deadly if used with absolute precision, but again, it wouldn’t be the cartridge of choice for someone bent on mayhem. It is the lowest powered cartridge on the market, with the highest powered version I have seen having 168 foot pounds of muzzle energy. (By comparison, a 5.56 round from an AR-15 has a muzzle energy of 1200-1600 ft. lb.) Again, there would be a geometric increase in resistance to legislation, and some effective talking points against it, if the 22 rimfire was scooped up in restrictions.

So we’ve defined a type of firearm that includes high powered semiautomatic handguns and rifles with high capacity magazines. Now what do we do about it?

We do essentially what the Canadians do. You can own a semiautomatic firearm in Canada, but you need to undergo the moral equivalent of a colonoscopy to do so.

First, you need to take a certified firearms safety course. This is offered by various government agencies and private organizations throughout Canada. We could offer the same courses through state fish and game departments that already offer hunter safety courses, and through local hunting and shooting clubs.

Second, you have to pass a test of your firearms safety knowledge.

Third, having passed the test, you have to apply for a Possession and Acquisition License. This involves filling out an application form and getting an extensive background check. Any history of violence disqualifies you. There are some interesting features to the Canadian PAL application.

You have to list your present spouse or domestic partner, and that partner has to sign the form. If your spouse/partner doesn’t sign the form, the Chief Firearms Officer of your province will notify that person. You also have to list any former spouse/partner you had in the past two years. Again, they will be notified if you don’t have their signature.

You have to have someone provide a signature on the photograph you submit and verify that it is actually you.

You need to provide two personal references (with address and phone number) other than a spouse or domestic partner. They each have to sign off on this statement:

“I declare that I have known the applicant for three (3) years or more. I have read the information supplied by the applicant on this application. To the best of my knowledge and belief, I find it to be accurate and I know of no reason why, in the interest of safety of the applicant or any other person, the applicant should not be given a license to possess and acquire firearms.” Just above that statement is the note, “If you have any safety concerns about this application, please call 1 800 731-4000.” The same sentence appears above the signature lines for the current and former domestic partners. This is useful for avoiding that awkward situation when a somewhat scary acquaintance asks you to sign for them.

I seriously doubt that Nikolas Cruz (Parkland), Laughner (Giffords), and Holmes (Aurora) would have been able to pass this barrier, just to name three. Face it, if you can’t find two people on the whole planet who will say “He’s sane,” then you shouldn’t own a sharp fork, much less a firearm.

The PAL can be renewed online every five years. There is a 45 day processing period for an initial PAL application and then a 28 day waiting period before the first purchase.

Restricted Firearms need to be registered to an individual and that registration needs to be updated when a firearm is transferred to another person by sale, barter, or gift. They can only be transferred to another person with a Restricted PAL.

Another Canadian requirement for Restricted Firearms is that they be stored unloaded in a locked container. (Unrestricted firearms need at least a trigger or action lock.)

All together, these requirements would put a serious damper on sales of S-7-170 firearms. They would make it a lot harder for straw-man purchasers to operate and would discourage the casual “why not?” purchaser. Mentally unstable or habitually violent people would be at least seriously hindered and most likely stopped. At the same time, responsible, law abiding individuals with the intellect and patience to make it through the class/test/application/waiting period (and spouses and friends who respect them) would be able to purchase and possess such a firearm. Second Amendment misinterpreters (that’s another argument) can relax.

The proof of this procedure can be seen in the Canadian crime statistics. Canada has a gun related death rate of 1.97 (per 100,000 people), compared to the U.S. rate of 10.54. It’s also interesting to note that the accidental (gun) death rate in Canada is 0.05, less than a third of our 0.18 rate. Those safety courses, hm? Canada still has 30 guns per 100 people (U.S.: 101), so it’s not as if people can’t get firearms at all.

A Canadian style S-7-170 law would pass constitutional muster even with a conservative Supreme Court. It would address the specifics of firearm lethality in a way that the term “assault rifle” won’t. Backed by universal background check it could save tens of thousands of lives every year.

An afterthought: If you like this idea, you should forward it to your friends, and definitely to your elected representatives. Tweet it, Facebook it, hashtag it #S-7-170.