THE ONLY QUESTION ABOUT GUN
Only one thing is overlooked in the common-sense proposals to register guns, so here it is. How exactly would writing down my name, or your name, help arrest criminals or make you safer? Although at first blush, gun listing has a sort of tantalizing appeal, on reflection you have to wonder whether gun lists would be an instrument of crime control at all.
The unfortunate answer is that, no matter how good it feels when the words first pass your ears, registering honest gun owners doesn't stop criminals, and in fact focuses in exactly the opposite direction. It is an allocation of resources that has no chance of achieving its goal, if that goal is the reduction of crime.
1. Registering 70 million American households is extremely expensive.
Do you know what it takes to run a database that big? You need 19,000 changes daily, just to keep up with people who move every ten years. Floor after floor of cubicle after cubicle for employees with permanent jobs, payroll, parking and dry cleaning bills. It's a government jobs program all by itself, all in the common sense -- but deceptive name -- of stopping crime. How many criminals do you figure will register when all is said and done? That's right, none, and the planners know that. All that money and time, invested on tracking the innocent. That's why so many police departments are against it -- they'll be forced to run huge data centers with their limited resources, and hire clerks instead of cops.
2. Americans who fail to register would become felons without committing a crime.
Under registration, activity that is a common practice and has been perfectly legal since inception makes you a felon. Think about that. Possession of private property would subject you to felony arrest, if the property isn't on the government's master list. Boy, that doesn't sound like the American way. No other evil is needed, there is no victim and no inherent criminal act takes place. Paperwork equals prison. That's just wrong.
3. Registration, if enacted, will create an underground market for unregistered guns bigger than the drug trade.
How many times must an elite forbid what the public wants, before learning the unintended consequences of outlawing liberties? People get what they want either way, it's just a question of how much crime the government itself forces to accompany it. With respect to guns, the last thing you want to encourage is the creative import programs and price supports that drug dealers enjoy, for gun runners.
4. People have said to me, "But Alan, if all guns were registered and there was a crime, then you could tell."
Tell what? If your neighbor is shot, that's not probable cause to search everyone with a matching caliber in a ten-block radius. The evidence needed to conclusively link a person to a crime has no connection at all to a registration plan -- you need motive, opportunity, witnesses, physical evidence, the murder weapon. Police aren't waiting for official lists so they can start catching murderers. Gun registration schemes lack a crime prevention component.
5. You don't really think authorities would use gun registration lists to confiscate weapons from people, do you?
Despite real-life examples recently of exactly that in New York, California and Louisiana, and global history for the past century, this couldn't really happen, do you think? Who would even support such a thing in a country like America, with its Bill of Rights? The guarantees against confiscating property, unwarranted seizures and the right to keep and bear arms would surely forestall any such abuse of power. Are there really U.S. politician who would support firearm seizures? (Unfortunately, it's a long list of usual suspects.)
And what about the so-called First Amendment test? If it's OK for arms it must pass muster for words too. Why would an honest writer object to being on the government list of approved writers? Why indeed.
Pile logic on logic, some people just feel the government should register everything, just to keep control. When government has that much control, you no longer possess your liberties. You're living where government lists define who can do what, and where people control trumps crime control -- the gun registration model precisely. This form of "gun control" isn't about guns, it's about control.
I might favor registration if the system would include criminals. In fact, I'd favor testing the system on them first. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a widely known case (Haynes v. U.S., 1968), had determined that a felon who has a gun cannot be compelled to complete such forms, because it violates the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. That's right, mandatory registration -- not in your case of course but in the case of a criminal -- is a self-indictment of a crime, and is therefore prohibited.*
Gun listing is a feel-good deception that passes unquestioned by the "news" media, engorges the federal or state bureaucracy, and undercuts the linchpins of American freedoms. It has no more place in a free society than a government authorized list of words, and should be rejected outright. Elected officials who promote such a scheme are opposing the very Constitution they take an oath to preserve, protect and defend, and deserve to be removed from office.
* NOTE: This case only concerned a limited class of weapons, "destructive devices," which are listed and tracked in a special federal registry under the National Firearms Act. Congress rewrote that law after Haynes to require only the legal transferor, and not the transferee, of such devices to file papers, and along with other clever changes this overcame the 5th Amendment problem. In U.S. v. Freed, 1971, the Court agreed the problem had been fixed (for possession of hand grenades by criminals in that particular case).
A general registration scheme would run into a greater problem. A prohibited possessor cannot have a firearm at all, so mere possession is a serious crime. An additional charge for failing to register the gun that can't be possessed would offend the 5th Amendment the same as in the Haynes case. However, possession of an unregistered gun by an ordinary citizen would turn that citizen into a felon, with no other illegal act but the paperwork failure. The innocent would have to register to remain legal, the illegal possessor could not register without violating the right to not incriminate yourself.
Alan Korwin is the author seven books on gun law, and can be reached at gunlaws.com.
P.S. Updates to Texas, Virginia, Arizona and Federal gun laws will be
on gun laws and other topics.