Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Biggest Gun Grabs of the Last Eight Years
There’s an old saying that says, “To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Hammers can only do one thing: whack stuff (that’s the technical term). If a hammer happens upon a loose screw, it’s just going to keep hammering until that screw either breaks or magically transforms into a nail.
Where am I going with this? Good question. Here’s what I’m thinking—anti-gun politicians are kind of like hammers. To them, every problem that kind-of-sort-of-has-something-to-do-with-firearms can be solved by enacting gun control.
When the vast majority of gun-related murders are committed with handguns, they want to ban “assault rifles” with legislation that won’t stop mass shootings (not saying we should ban handguns, just pointing out how misguided thier efforts are). When 22 veterans commit suicide every day, they want to revoke the Second Amendments rights of vets who need help with their finances. And despite the fact that firearm-related murders are at their lowest point since 1981, members of Congress stage a sit-in over a supposed lack of action on gun control.
Anti-gunner believe that by passing legislation targeting law-abiding citizens (who else does legislation target?), they can reduce the number of firearm-related crimes. That’s the charitable view. The less charitable view is that state and federal politicians don’t like the idea of their subjects being armed, and they’ll do anything in their power to take away their right to own and carry firearms.
Whatever the reason, we’ve seen some bold gun bans in the last eight years, and as President Obama’s tenure in office winds to a close, I wanted to look at just a few of them. I think it’s important to keep these on our radar so we can 1) fight to get them repealed and 2) be vigilant so that this kind of legislation doesn’t see the light of day in other states.
NEW YORK SAFE ACT
I didn’t know much about the NY SAFE Act before writing this article, so I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when I read this FAQ published by the New York Governor’s office. Phew. To any New York residents out there, you have my condolences.
The SAFE Act is similar to other “assault weapon” bans in that it prohibits any rifles or pistols with features arbitrarily designated as “military.” These include, according to this PowerPoint from the Governor’s office, folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, thumbhole stocks, “second handgrips,” bayonet mounts, and muzzle devices. According to the New York governor, these features make a rifle an “assault weapon” and disallow them from being bought or sold in New York.
Anyone with actual common sense knows that these features do almost nothing to enhance the lethality of a rifle. The Ruger Mini 14 is functionally equivalent to an AR-15. But because it lacks those scary “military” features it isn’t banned in New York (yet).
The SAFE Act imposes a number of additional measures, such as banning magazines of more than 10 rounds and requiring a background check for all private transactions. But the implementation of the new law has been anything but smooth. The Act initially banned any magazines over seven rounds, but when they realized seven round magazines don’t exist, the courts switched it to 10. The pro-gun community gained an additional victory when New York’s governor agreed to suspend a provision that would have required background checks on ammo purchases.
Concerns have also been raised among mental health professionals that too many people have been deemed mentally unstable and too dangerous to carry firearms. As of October 2014, 34,500 people had been placed on New York’s no-gun list, a number one former mental hospital director said seems “extraordinarily high.”
The law has received opposition from law enforcement as well. New York State Sheriffs Association and five individual sheriffs joined in 2013 a court effort to block enforcement of the magazine and firearms bans. Some Sheriffs even went on the record to say that they will not enforce the law.
What’s the status of the Act now? It’s still in effect, but, according to this article, it’s been a “monumental failure.” Not because it’s done anything to reduce crime—again, rifles weren’t used in the vast majority of gun-related crimes in the first place. It’s because “the industry has reacted to the law by simply redesigning the guns to avoid the features the law prohibits and which Cuomo apparently believed made them more lethal.”
The authors sums it up well in the conclusion, and this could really apply to any proposed gun ban:
“So, what is left of Cuomo’s SAFE Act? It has many minor provisions, some of which are working, but from the perspective of criminals, not much has changed. They can still buy all the guns they want to commit crimes. To lawful citizens who want to own a gun, there is a giant government record-keeping bureaucracy, additional cost and waiting times, but little real impact on what firearms they can buy if they want them. The SAFE Act therefore burdens people who do not commit crimes, while having no impact on the real source of gun crime in New York: street violence in poor urban neighborhoods.”
MASSACHUSETTS COPYCAT BAN
Massachusetts passed an “assault weapons” ban in 1998 prohibiting the sale or manufacture of certain modern sporting rifles, e.g. the AR-15 and AK-47 platforms. Like in New York, the gun industry has been complying with the Massachusetts law by modifying AR-15s and other semiautomatic rifles so they are in compliance with the law (fixed stocks, no muzzle device, etc.).
But just a few weeks ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey unilaterally decided to change the law’s interpretation. Now, despite the lack of new legislation, a rifle is illegal if its internal operating system is largely the same as an AR-15 or an AK-47 (bye, bye, Ruger Mini).
“One thing is certain is that this new interpretation is purely a political stunt and has nothing to do with public safety or law,” said Jim Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, aka GOAL.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation announced their intention to sue Healey over her unilateral reinterpretation of the law. “With this ‘Enforcement Action,’ the Attorney General’s office has demonstrated how little it understands about firearms and has generated considerable uncertainty and confusion,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel in a statement. “Attorney General Healey and/or her staff have overreached their authority and decided to legislate from her office without the benefit of any public process.”
Healey cited the recent mass murders in Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown, and Aurora as motivation for her decision. But, again, laws target the law-abiding—not criminals and mass murderers. And as the Boston Marathon bombing tragically proved, terrorists don’t need firearms to accomplish their objectives.
COLORADO MAGAZINE BAN
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a law in 2013 that mandated background checks on all firearms transfers and prohibited magazines of over 15 rounds. Colorado residents, understandably furious, managed to recall two state senators who had supported the bill. Another senator resigned before the recall could take place.
Despite these efforts, the law withstood another recall attempt in the legislature in 2014. The popular magazine and accessory manufacturere, Magpul, had already moved to Texas by that time, and Coloradans have since been able to find ways to work around the magazine ban.
But the fight isn’t over. Universal background checks are still in place. And this year the Senate passed legislation that would repeal the magazine restrictions. “Until we focus on the perpetrator or criminal who is intent on inflicting as much pain and suffering as possible on innocent people, we will never solve the issue of gun violence,” said the majority caucus chair, state Sen. Vicki Marble. “It takes a person to commit a crime, not an object.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Senate passed a similar bill last legislative session, which the Democrat-controlled House promptly killed. Right now action on the bill has been “postponed indefinitely” by the House Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affair. It should be reconsidered when the legislature begins session next year.
CONNECTICUT GUN BAN
Less than four months after the tragedy in Sandy Hook, the Democrat-controlled Connecticut legislature passed what some have called the toughest gun-control laws in the nation. You can find more details in this New York Times article, but I’ll just touch on a few of the more draconian measures.
One requires anyone who does not hold a concealed carry permit to acquire a state-issued eligibility certificate for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition. Connecticut residents also have to register any “assault weapons” as well as magazines that hold over 10 rounds of ammunition. This isn’t a retroactive gun ban, per se, but failure to comply with the law meant some gun owners were forced to dispose of their weapons and magazines.
In 2014 the Journal Inquirer reported that the state issued orders for 108 residents with high-capacity magazines to destroy their magazines or move them out of state. Why? Because they submitted their registration papers after the Jan. 4, 2014, deadline. Keep in mind—these individuals were not trying to hide illegal magazines. These law-abiding gun owners were (imagine that!) trying to abide by the law. They just submitted their paperwork a few days late.
For firearms manufactured or sold after the laws took effect, the restrictions are almost identical to those in New York—a rifle is banned if it has a detachable magazine and any one of those scary military features.
The legislation also banned armor piercing bullets.
Today these laws are still holding strong. This Supreme Court last month declined to consider a challenge to Connecticut’s gun control measures, effectively upholding the lower court’s decision that the laws are constitutional.
When my editor and I were discussing this article, he mentioned that I should cover “whatever the heck they’re doing in California.” This seems like an appropriate way to describe the plethora of gun and ammunition restrictions foisted on Californians over the years.
California has had an “assault weapons” ban since 1989. However, it didn’t stop there, state legislators have continued to tighten their grip on the sale, manufacture, and possession of everything from handgun ammunition to .50 caliber rifles. They were the first state to issue many of the bans and restrictions we’ve seen in other states over the last eight years. Their magazine ban came in 2000, and they tightened their “assault rifle” restrictions in 1999.
But this past year has seen the harshest measures to date. We published an overview from the National Shooting Sports Foundation when the laws came down, and they aren’t pretty. These are the two major laws that ban certain types of firearms and accessories:
- AB 1135(Levine) and SB 880 (Hall) Firearms: assault weapons – Expands the definition of assault weapons based on whether a semiautomatic firearm has a detachable magazine, banning thousands of popular firearms.
- SB 1446(Hancock) Firearms: magazine capacity – Makes it illegal to possess magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds no matter how long a person has owned them. This is significant in that the prior law allowed owners to keep their magazines if they owned them before the law took effect.
The laws take effect in January, but one group—aptly named “Veto Gunmageddon”—is working to overturn them. By September 29 they need 365,000 referendum petition signatures for each of the seven laws they’re looking to repeal. If they can get the laws on the Nov. 8 ballot, there’s a chance they can be overturned. Petitions must be signed at designated petition signing locations, which you can view here. The petitions will be available to sign on Aug. 12, but you must be a registered California voter. Click here to register to vote.
Do you notice a trend, here? Gun grabs in recent history haven’t come from the federal government. They’ve come from the states. The GOP-controlled U.S. Congress has remained stalwart in their defense of Second Amendment rights, which has left the President more or less powerless in his attempts to enact stricter gun control measures.
So I think there are two takeaways. First, get involved in your state elections. If you care about your Second Amendment rights, you can’t just vote for the President every four years and be content. Anti-gunners have moved the battle to the states—we have to fight them there as well.
For my second point, I’m going to backtrack to my first point. The President hasn’t been able to ram his agenda down our throats because the pro-gun contingent controls Congress. What happens when that’s no longer the case? If anti-gunners take control of the Senate and the Presidency (not to mention the future Supreme Court nominations), we could have a serious problem on our hands. So while you’re deciding how to get involved in your state elections, be sure to vote in November’s elections as well.
The fight for the Second Amendment will never be over, but if the millions of gun owners across the United States work together, we can keep the anti-gunners at bay for years to come.