An Old Man's Thoughts on Gun Control in the US

(posted 2-28-2018) - It looks like recent events have pushed gun controls back into the public discourse. Like everyone else I've got some thoughts on the subject. Having spent a lot of time in rural settings I've used shotguns, rifles, and handguns since I was 10 years old. I've used automatic weapons in the Army. I'm sure my experiences inform and shape my viewpoints.

I think there is zero probability that in the forseable future any legislation will make the manufacture and/or general public purchase of shotguns, rifles, and handguns illegal in the US. That said, I firmly believe there is a need for well conceived and executed legislation that blocks individuals from access to firearms and cartidges when a court has defined them as 'at risk.'

The term At Risk is at the heart of temporary denial of 2nd amendment rights. Society needs to debate the definition -- but much as a DUI conviction, failure to register and insure a vehicle, or too many moving violations result in temporary loss of driving privileges, so too should conviction of domestic battery, a restraining order, or being on probation temporarily remove one's right to access a firearm.

I also believe that for certain classes of firearm it is appropriate to require federal gun licensing which includes background checks of the purchaser of the firearm, as well as registration of firearm barrel, receiver, and detachable magazine (where applicable) by serial number. Finally for registered firearms there should be a requirement for liability insurance. The analogy for all the above is the ownership and operation of an automobile.

What follows is a first cut at trying to come up with reasonable ideas for control and tracking of firearms and cartridges in the US.

I propose a set of simple Federal (ATFE) rules - designed to impact rural small arms owners and sport hunters the least. There are separate gun cultures which pose different risk factors to 3rd parties and laws should reflect the different risk levels.

I also believe that other gun owners should disavow their militia minded brethren as much as possible through NRA activism aimed at changing NRA policy. At present NRA policy directly supports militia obsessions (at the executive level)!

I define a militia type as one who fantasizes about using an auto-loading weapon to combat a group (federal, state, ethnic, religious etc.) the individual believes is plotting to take away his property or rights. A militia forms when like minded individuals begin to share their obsessions.

In defining a reasonable set of gun control laws I would start by establishing exactly two classes of legal firearm ownership ... unregistered and unregulated (class 1) and registered and regulated (class 2).

Class 1 would include all breach loaded single and double barrel shot guns (non-rifled); all muzzle loading and breach loaded pistols and rifles; all cap and ball firearms, and all rifled firearms whose designed for cartidges produce kinetic energy of less than 150 ft-lbs.

Class 2 would include all pump or autoloading shotguns and all rifled firearms whose designed for cartidges produce kinetic energy at the muzzle greater than 150 ft-lbs.

For reference: all 22 short and long rifle rimfire cartridges produce kinetic energy below 150 ft-lbs. This would mean that the millions of owners of single and double barrel shotguns, muzzle loaders, black-powder cap and ball, and 22 rimfire pistols and rifles across the country would see absolutely no new firearm regulation requirements.

Additionally, not all gun owners using class 2 firearms share the same culture.

The game hunting population often purchase pump shotguns (shot and slug), and bolt / lever operated rifled firearms whose cartridge muzzle energy ranges from 1200-2500 ft-lbs. These folks should see minimal regulation based on their choice of such a firearm (where it requires manual operation of a slide, bolt, or lever between each trigger pull). A point of sale registration of the firearm and chain of ownership records (post retail sales) would be sufficient per firearm. A sportsman class license would be issued (without background check) for the purpose of ammunition purchases.

Now we get to the nutshell of gun safety: There is a large population of gunowners whose primary motivation for ownership is self defense. The marketing of a firearm for use as a weapon is always identifiable (despite specious NRA arguments to the contrary). These firearms need to be closely tracked by barrel, receiver, and magazine (where detachable) by serial number, from the point of manufacture through all following sales and transfers of ownership. Currently manufacturers do not track barrels and detached magazines with serialized numbers. The current owner of said firearm must maintain a current license (proof of background check and proficiency test) and have proof of liability insurance for the registered firearm. As noted the firearm serialized components must be registered to an owner until destroyed.

States can further limit licenses based on dynamic criteria (conviction for domestic abuse, restraining orders, on parole etc). Criminal deterrent penalties could apply (don't sell weaponized firearms illegally because you'll go to jail if caught selling, buying, using).

Now we arrive at the portion of the population using firearms as recreational devices. Shooting ranges, plinking in rural areas, and shooting on private property are common activities. Class 2 firearms which auto-load are common in this cohort. This recreational cohort in itself is benign, but recreational culture often bleeds into the militia culture largely because of the predominance in both cultures of autoloading firearms and various 'mods' which further weaponize autoloading firearms. The recreational culture needs to be carefully weaned from the militia culture (who basically fantasize about resisting a facist / communist / socialist takeover of their American Way of Life by force of arms). Put another way, all militia types like recreational shooting using autoloading firearms, but a minority of recreational shooters participate in the militia culture.

To help split apart the recreational and militia cultures: Recognize that militia types want to keep militarized weapons on their person to intimidate while recreational types just want to enjoy shooting rapid fire weapons for the act itself.

Reduce the legal detachable magazine size to a maximum of 8 cartridges, which will infuriate the militia types and the NRA corporate flaks but, to appease the recreational shooter do the following: Define a Class 2 license option with extended background checks and on-site ATFE certification which allows a licensee to maintain a public or private shooting range with Class 2 firearm high capacity magazines available to range users. These may not leave the premises and a chain of custody must be maintained. It would be a criminal offense if a serialized magazine were to find its way off-premise. If successfully implemented this will allow controlled recreational use of high capacity mags but keep them from freely circulating.

Finally, management of Class 2 cartidge types and records of sales of such ammunition should be added into federal and state law along with the above mentioned firearm registration and owner licensing. To buy Class 2 ammunition a purchaser must present a valid Class 2 license.

Additionally, each state may establish limits on ammunition purchase quantities or limits on certain Class 2 cartridge types (a state might prohibit a .50 BMG purchase for example, or prohibit sale of a teflon ogive solid point).

This is meant to be a first pass at thinking about reasonable and enforceable gun control. It will be interesting to see where our federal and state legislatures and courts take us over the next few years. I think the public at large is reaching a tipping point and wants there to be a real public discussion.

Post-Script: I've recently seen a number of posts about school shooters which note that they come from single (female) parent families. The solution it is argued is not to control under 21 access to firearms, but to focus instead on insuring male role models in the young shooter's life. As counterpoint I link to an exhaustive list of all documented school campus shooting (with footnotes to sources) Here.

Of course people who shoot others randomly are troubled; but treating a male presence as a deus ex machina prevention is naive. In fact 54% of mass shootings occur off-campus as a result of domestic quarrels that escalate to consume the household. Most such murders are done by men, often the head of household!

Another Post-Script: Some folks have pointed to FBI data showing a decrease in the percentage of murders by rifles after repeal of the Federal (1995-2004) assault rifle ban as evidence that such controls are unnecessary and ineffective. They also point out that the FBI data for murders by firearm show less than 3% are from use of a rifle.

Taking this point to an extreme gun rights advocates have noted that federal data shows the number of murders by knife is greater than the number of murders by firearm. The inference being that focusing on gun control is foolish.

The current point of considering gun control legislation, I would argue, is to address the lethality of public shootings (mass shootings) aided by the use of an auto-loading rifle. That a single individual can kill so many people in one place needs to be addressed.

It is true that of all the murders nationally mass murder events account for a very small percentage. But technology has enhanced the affective power of the individual to harm many -- and the impact on society (sense of terror) is amplified. That there are thousands of private tragedies (individual murders) is bad enough, but a mass murder of innocents hits at us much harder, and needs to be addressed.

Another popular argument against controlling access to classes of auto-loading rifles is that hand guns will be used instead. That may well be true, but I would argue that the average lethality per event will be drastically reduced if the terrorist is limited to use of a handgun. An auto-loading rifle is demonstrably more lethal. A rifle cartridge will have more than twice the kinetic energy of any handgun, higher capacity magazine capability, and better than 3-1 accuracy at ranges between 25 and 50 meters. The accuracy for any rifle improves geometrically over a handgun as the range increase substantially.

So again, the question all of us should be asking, is what compromise can be reached which allows the vast majority of gun owners to be minimally impacted, while making it noticeably harder for certain weapons to be easily obtained without scrutiny and evaluation (again back to the automobile owner model for weapons ownership).