Humpty-Dumpty on Gun Control


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – - that’s all.”

Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6 (Alice in Wonderland)
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Its a wonder to me that when politicians want to do something new, they never look through what laws already on the books might be useful (amended if necessary to update it) before they get started building something new from the ground up. The theory, apparently, is its easier to build a new wall than paint an old wall. We see this in govt economic policy time and again but today we see this on the issue of gun control. In truth, I’m sort of indifferent on the topic. However, it pained me to read this..

A person familiar with the drafting of the bill assures me that it will be more sweeping, in an effort to plug many of the holes that bedeviled the first one. One noteworthy tidbit: The new bill will explicitly name the Bushmaster used in the Newtown shooting as a target.
Feinstein’s bill, I’m told, will be more sweeping in its targeting of specific weapons. “This bill would name many more weapons than the original ban” the person familiar with drafting tells me. “It would name ones that would be specifically prohibited, including this Bushmaster in Connecticut.”

OK, the root of the problem is you can’t simultaneously go more “sweeping” and more “specific”. When Congress declared war on Japan, they didn’t call out Admiral Yamamoto, General Tojo, et al. by name. They figured declaring war on “The Empire of Japan” was as specific as they needed to get. I would suggest they were right.

Gun control is a fool’s errand if the politicians can’t figure out that if you want to go sweeping, you use broad terms, not specific. What’s more, if you read the US Code for what’s already on the books, you’ll see there is already a pretty damn broad system of gun registration, owner licensing and excise taxes on every gun transfer lying dormant. The fine for owning unregistered guns, this is awesome, $250,000… per gun. Senator Feinstein and the Administration can cover everything they want (yes even the Bushmaster) and most semiautomatic pistols to boot by adding precisely 23 words to the US Code. So here’s the simplest gun control law in the world— change the legal definition of “machinegun”. As a public service (pass or fail, its all the same to me), I’ll even show you the words add in bold below. The existing “any part designed and intended” language there would then restrict large capacity magazines as well (something else Feinstein wants to ban). As for the date the manufacturing ban begins; whether its a 6 round limit or 10; or how to check backgrounds for sale of registration-free shotguns, revolvers and bolt action (just red flag the driver’s license of the gun-ineligible and mandate seller to visually inspect it), that’s the ancillary stuff President Obama can negotiate against himself over. Beyond that, this should be a very simple bill, which is not the same thing as a specific bill.

26 USC 5845(b) Machinegun
The term “machinegun” means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger or by separate pull of the trigger if it can hold more than 6 rounds of ammunition in a fixed or detachable magazine. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun…

I love the odd spelling of machinegun, since Congress is the master of this word, there’s no reason they can’t decide that Machinegun should rhyme with Finnegan. It would certainly short circuit a lot of tedious debates (“But a Glock pistol isn’t a machine gun!”, “Didn’t say it was, just that its a machinegun”). :o)

Personally, I’d throw a bone to gun owners (and Republican congressmen in competitive districts) by creating a statutory federal right for concealed carry of revolvers ANYWHERE in America (sorry Mayor Bloomberg, you’re gonna take this one for the team). After all, a 6 shot revolver is enough to ambush a crazed gunman—but not enough to wipe out a classroom. If that’s a bridge too far, then a federal right for law abiding Americans to keep a revolver, shotgun or bolt action rifle in their home or business– none of those would need to be registered, overriding any state laws or permit requirements to the contrary. Essentially, you’ve got to give something to gun owners that makes Michael Bloomberg very unhappy, there’s just no other way up the hill. Of course, there’s always requiring every high school student to pass a marksmanship class to graduate (Naturally, Arizona leads the way on this).

Comments
  • Anon December 22, 2012 at 5:11 am

    If I’m reading it right then your proposed modification would likely not pass constitutional review, with the current SCotUS composition. By my reading your modification would ban most semiautomatic handguns, which are used by the majority of households that have a handgun for defensive purposes. Doing that is not constitutional:

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_v._Heller

    The average “normal” magazine size is around 9 rounds – and various bans on high capacity magazines put the limit between 10-20 rounds.

    By naming specific weapon types the lawmakers protect themselves against the embarrassment that various loopholes that will no doubt exist, and clever lawyering by gun makers, arguing before a conservative SCotUS sympathetic to their ideology, might end up not banning the very weapons that were used in these atrocities …

    • beowulf December 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      The Heller case was a total ban on home owners owning handguns. A DC city permit was required, and they refused to issue any permits. As Justice Scalia wrote, “The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of “arms” that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.”

      Handguns are the “entire class” and revolvers and high capacity semiautomatics are each subsets of the class. Requiring registration and permits of one subset (and unlike DC city govt, the ATF actually processes applications) while creating a federal right free of any state or city restrictions for another subset (e.g. revolvers) is by no means a ban on an entire class of arms so its consistent with the Heller decision.

      As for the number of rounds or the favoring revolvers over high capacity semiautomatics ( again, registration is not a ban), that’s an interesting question but first let’s set the table.
      The McDonald v. Chicago case two years after Heller spends a lot of time discussing the post-Civil War period and its relevance to gun rights (“The unavoidable conclusion is that the Civil Rights Act, like the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, aimed to protect “the constitutional right to bear arms” and not simply to prohibit discrimination… In sum, it is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty”.”).
      Would the Framers of the 14th Amendment– ratified just three years after the Civil War– think favoring 6 shot revolvers was some kind of violation of the right to keep and bear arms? Probably not.
      The most popular Colt handgun in the Union army was a .44 caliber six-shot revolver. Stocks were made that could be screwed onto the butt of the pistol allowing it to be held at the shoulder, increasing accuracy. Some had a second function such as a liquor flask or storage for cartridges.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_weapons_in_the_American_Civil_War

      • beowulf December 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm

        The funny thing is that Sen. Feinstein’s definition of high capacity is 10+ rounds , which sounds about right, but remember what I said above about “negotiating against himself”? :o)

  • Cowpoke December 22, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Why is this a FEDERAL GOVT issue anyways? Were not talking about Weapons Of MASS destruction like NUKLER BOMBS (Thanks G.W-ubya)
    States can implement their own gun laws as they see fit and so should do so.
    Quit looking to the feds to solve issues better left to the locals.
    It’s called FEDERALISM Folks..

  • beowulf December 23, 2012 at 12:52 am

    One answer is because any national story ends up in the federal govt’s plate. The other is that Connecticut already has some of the toughest state gun laws in the country… and it didn’t stop this crime. So the subject has been changed to federal law. To some degree, the push for gun control has become an example of security theater (which I talk about in my latest post)… a govt policy that does more to make people feel safer than actually making them safer.