Gun Legislation – Part 1


I started this over a month ago for people who may not have given much thought to gun legislation. I expect it to be a 4-part series to give you a little more insight into the matter than most of the politicians who are cobbling together laws to protect us from guns (and those who would oppose any change). You don’t have to own a gun to be informed about guns. After listening to legislators and journalists, many of whom claim to own or use a gun, I’m really appalled. Especially cringe-worthy is the expert on gun violence who put together the new proposed gun legislation (which is essentially a rehash of the old Brady bill).

Warning: this article is rather long and is about controlling gun violence as opposed to controlling gun access – a difference that our lawmakers don’t seem to appreciate. (Gun access is a separate issue and requires more competence on the part of policy makers than violence prevention.) I hope it is useful if you’re interested in gun violence.

If you have a strong opinions about guns, you may want to stop here because I’m attempting to stay neutral. There are three issues that are constantly confused both by legislators and the media. They are gun control, gun safety, and gun violence prevention, and the worst offenders are the ones who can’t distinguish between gun control and gun safety (like Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, and Chris Hayes, who always confuse the two).

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. has a bill of rights as part of its constitution that allows private ownership and use of guns. Specifically, the second amendment states that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This has been interpreted by the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court as an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, although the government has the right to regulate this within reason. If you disagree, read this extended discussion of the Second Amendment. Other countries that have a guaranteed right to bear arms are Armenia, Chile, Columbia, Denmark, Germany, Guam, Guatemala, Hungary, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Yemen. (Sources: Gun Policy and Wikipedia Gun Violence).

This means that gun confiscation is not an option, as it is in many other countries. The object of gun legislation should always be to reduce or prevent gun violence, although many lawmakers lose sight of this and try to make it difficult if not illegal to own a gun (as was the case in Washington D.C.). How effective is it to legally ban the right to own a gun? Sometimes it works fairly well, but let’s look at the number of annual homicides per 100,000 population for various countries (source: Firearm Death Rate).

Country

Homicides

Suicides

Year

 Jamaica

47.44

NA

2009

 Honduras

46.7

NA

2007

 El Salvador

39.9

1.06

2008

 Guatemala

38.52

NA

2009

 Swaziland

37.16

NA

2004

 Brazil

18.1

0.74

2008

 South Africa

17

2

2007

 Mexico

10

0.67

2010

 Colombia

10

0.67

2011

 Panama

9.92

NA

2010

 Philippines

9.46

NA

2002

 Paraguay

7.35

NA

2000

 Nicaragua

7.14

NA

2007

 Zimbabwe

4.75

NA

2000

 Costa Rica

3.32

NA

2002

 Uruguay

3.24

NA

2002

 United States

3.2

6.3

2010

 Argentina

3

2.01

2008

 Barbados

3

NA

2000

 Chile

2.2

1.09

2011

 Montenegro

2.06

6.49

2009

 Peru

1.87

NA

2009

 Moldova

1.04

NA

2011

 Israel

0.94

0.71

2009

 India

0.93

NA

2000

 Serbia

0.62

2.81

2010

 Luxembourg

0.6

1

2009

 Greece

0.59

0.84

1994

 Uzbekistan

0.58

0.03

2005

 Croatia

0.57

2.35

2010

 Kyrgyzstan

0.53

0.07

2010

 Switzerland

0.52

3.15

2010

 Canada

0.5

1.79

2011

 Malta

0.48

1.68

2010

 Portugal

0.48

1.09

2010

 Macedonia

0.45

0.42

2011

 Belarus

0.38

NA

2002

 Italy

0.36

0.81

2009

 Kuwait

0.36

0.06

1995

 Ireland

0.36

0.56

2010

 Ukraine

0.35

NA

2000

 Estonia

0.3

1.57

2010

 Belgium

0.29

1.96

2006

 Finland

0.26

3.34

2010

 Lithuania

0.24

1

2010

 Cyprus

0.24

0.48

2010

 Georgia

0.23

0.09

2009

 Bulgaria

0.23

0.87

2011

 France

0.22

2.33

2009

 Denmark

0.22

1.16

2006

 Netherlands

0.2

0.24

2010

 Sweden

0.19

1.2

2010

 Austria

0.18

2.68

2010

 Slovakia

0.18

0.94

2010

 Latvia

0.18

0.94

2010

 Qatar

0.18

NA

2000

 New Zealand

0.17

2.14

1993

 Spain

0.15

0.42

2010

 Hungary

0.13

0.72

2009

 Taiwan

0.13

0.12

1994

 Czech Republic

0.12

1.39

2010

 Hong Kong

0.12

0.07

1993

 Australia

0.09

0.79

2008

 Singapore

0.07

0.17

1994

 Germany

0.06

0.94

2010

 Slovenia

0.05

2.34

2010

 Norway

0.04

1.72

2010

 United Kingdom

0.04

0.17

2011

 Romania

0.04

0.06

2010

 South Korea

0.04

0.02

1994

 Azerbaijan

0.04

0.01

2007

 Poland

0.02

0.12

2010

 Japan

0.02

0.04

1994

 Iceland

NA

1.25

2009

 Mauritius

0

0.09

1993

The years in which statistics were gathered is inconsistent, but the table attempts to use statistics from comparable sources. Note that there are 16 countries that exceed the U.S. in annual firearm homicide rate. Of those countries, only five have the legal right to bear arms (Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay). Another interesting statistic is that as the number of gun-related homicides decreases, the relative number of gun-related suicides tends to increase. (I’m not suggesting misreporting; culture has a lot to do with an individual’s decision about homicide or suicide.)

Reasons for firearm murders are harder to track once drug trade and organized crime are accounted for; cultural differences enter, and there doesn’t seem to be a simple breakdown for all countries. A good source for understanding firearm deaths for each country is Gun Policy Facts and News.

Even availability of guns isn’t necessarily a good marker for gun deaths. For instance, the U.S. has 88.8 guns per 100 population while Swaziland, Honduras, Columbia, El Salvador, Philippines, and Zimbabwe respectively have 6.4, 6.2, 5.9, 5.8, 4.7, and 3.44 guns per 100 population, yet have much higher firearm death rates than the U.S. (source: Firearm Possession Rates). As a specific example, Brazil makes it all but illegal to carry a firearm, it registers all firearms, and you must be at least 25 just to legally own a gun (Gun Politics in Brazil), only 8 people per 100 own guns (less than a tenth of U.S. gun ownership rate), but the firearm homicide rate is 5 to 6 times that of the U.S.

Since we can’t constitutionally eliminate guns, can we at least reduce gun violence? The most obvious ways are to determine those who are most likely to exhibit violence toward others, restrict who can legally carry a gun, restrict illegal gun access, regulate arms brokers, mark and trace guns and ammunition, and regulate who can buy a gun based on competence. So how can this be achieved – especially controlling illegal access?

Of the six points mentioned above arms brokers and dealers are currently reasonably regulated, and federal law requires that commercially available guns must be marked (usually, manufacturer and serial number). Since registration of most guns is not required, traceability is often limited to international gun sales or domestic sales of special classes of weapons. Ammunition marking and tracing is not practiced in the U.S., although it is often possible to match a fired bullet or spent casing to a particular gun.

The issue of violence is handled in the U.S. by National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for persons seeking to buy a gun. The criteria used to deny the right to buy a gun are conviction or indictment for a felony, fugitive from justice, addiction to a controlled substance, adjudication as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution, illegally in the United States, dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, renounced U.S. citizenship, harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or being convicted of domestic violence. While not all of these are good predictors of violence and some are not easy to verify, this is what is used by the FBI to determine the likelihood of violence with a firearm.

The NICS background checks are not necessarily instant as one might think, and the FBI has up to 3 days to provide the information. If there is no reply after three days, the dealer may proceed with the sale, but if the FBI later determines that they should not have allowed the sale, the gun(s) must be retrieved. The NICS check is required for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers but not for sales by a private citizen, which is a loophole that makes the whole idea much less effective.

Carrying a loaded gun is regulated separately by each state, and the restrictions vary tremendously. Carrying a handgun is divided into open carry and concealed carry, and the two are sometimes regulated differently. In most states, concealed carry (and often, open carry) require a certified training program and licensing of the person applying for a carry permit. Many states tie this to a driver’s license, so that if you are pulled over, the officer is forewarned that you may be carrying. Effectiveness of the various state-run programs are deficient to varying degrees and sometimes fail to screen out some people who in hindsight should not have been permitted to carry a sidearm. Screening is often based on NICS background checks.

Now we come to restricting illegal access to guns and the competence of gun owners. As with gun carry laws, these have everything to do with gun safety and not gun control. Currently, neither of these is controlled nationally, and locking up guns is only required by a few states. I have suggestions for both of these issues as well as a discussion of possible limitations.

What prompted me to write this post to begin with was seeing a brief news item about a 9-year-old kid who was in prison for shooting someone with the gun his mother had left loaded on a table. This is the height of irresponsibility, and it is the mother who should be in prison. This is a story repeated on a daily basis, though it doesn’t always end in tragedy. Most frequently reported are the guns that wind up being taken to school, and nearly always, it is the kid who is penalized and not the gun owner. Stories of minors with guns are rampant in the news: Four-year-old Boy Shoots Self, Two-year-old Shoots Self, Two-year-old Boy Shoots his Finger, 10-year-old Boy Shoots Man in Leg While Hunting, and Four-year-old Shoots and Kills Man in Virginia.

This is only a short sampling of events that happen dozens of times daily, most of which don’t have such dire consequences, and many of which are never publicly reported. What they have in common is parents, relatives, friends, or neighbors leaving a loaded gun where it is easily accessible or actually giving a loaded gun to a child with little or no supervision. The other less common scenario is with guns stolen during a burglary.

The easy answer is to lock up any gun that you aren’t keeping in a holster within immediate reach. (Although most holsters are worn, some are kept in a purse or attached to a vehicle that the owner is driving.) A gun should never be kept loose in a pocket or purse because of the possibility of another object entering the trigger guard and firing the weapon. This happens surprisingly often. A recurring event is men shooting off their own penises (Man Shoots Off His Own Penis). To make it worse, it was his girlfriend accessorized pink pistol. Use a holster! If you’re not holding a gun, there are only two other proper places for it: in a holster or locked up.

There are a couple exceptions to using a holster. If you carry a gun where nothing can touch the trigger, like in its own compartment in a fanny pack or a pouch. The important thing about using a holster or other carrying device is that nothing should be able to touch the trigger.

Some states like California and Massachusetts restrict the sale of guns to those which will not accidentally fire when dropped. In most cases, this means that the only way a gun can be fired is that the trigger must be depressed. (Very rare incidents such as discharging when a slide is racked have been known to happen.)

If a gun isn’t within immediate reach, it should be locked up, and this should be federally mandated. (Inexplicably, our legislators don’t seem to have thought of this.) This one precaution would have prevented many of our school massacres, including the one in Newtown, which none of the currently proposed legislation could have affected in any way. Restricting assault rifles may limit deaths to merely severe injuries (see my discussion of different types of wounds), and limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds may limit the number of people shot at one time, but it doesn’t prevent the situation from happening in the first place, the way locking a firearm would. Restricting future sales of assault rifles and extended magazines may limit some future mass killings, but already existing rifles and magazines won’t be affected.

Legislation has to stipulate what locking up firearms means. With the sparse current laws, it is often sufficient to use flimsy trigger blocks, which are easy to remove, or in some cases they allow the gun to be fired with the block in place. For gun owners with multiple guns, a gun safe or vault will certainly be the most effective method and may even be the least expensive route to gun lockup. Even locking up guns individually will cost only a small fraction of a gun’s price. Examples of these types of lockup are listed in this ad: Gun Lockup. (The 3-pack Remington trigger blocks in the ad should be avoided.)

What possible objections are there to this simple precaution? The only one I can imagine is that it takes a few seconds to unlock your gun in case of a home invasion. If that’s what you’re worried about, keep your gun within reach at all times, and in the case of a handgun, a holster is recommended. The benefits are obvious, and the objections are minor by comparison to the damage and lives saved by such a simple measure.

This leaves competent gun ownership as the only remaining topic. Other than passing the NICS background check, there are no other requirements for buying a gun in most states. Why should this matter? Read these two articles: Man Kills his 7-year-old Son and Man Kills 10-month-old Son. In both cases, these were reported as accidents, but in fact, they were examples of incompetence in gun-handling and are examples of murder or at least man-slaughter. Why? There are 4 basic rules to gun safety that would have prevented these situations, and if you don’t know and practice them any time you touch a gun, you are being completely irresponsible.

These are the 4 rules which appear in most introductory gun courses paraphrased in one form or another:

  1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.

  2. Never let the muzzle (the front of the weapon) point at anything you are not willing to destroy.

  3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger (and, in fact, outside the trigger guard) until your target is acquired and you are ready to shoot.

  4. Be sure of your target and what’s near or in line with your target.

If you don’t know and practice them, you shouldn’t be allowed to be near a gun. In the case of the man who shot his 7-year-old son, he broke all four rules.

Breaking the rules down, the first rule requires you to prove that a gun is empty by showing that the magazine is empty or removed or that the cylinder or block (in a rolling block or falling block) is empty and the chamber is also empty. Any time a gun leaves your sight or your hands, this procedure must be repeated. Remember that even with the magazine removed, there may still be a round in the chamber waiting to be fired. This rule is often paraphrased as “Every gun is loaded”.

With the second rule, the usual direction to point the muzzle is at the ground (or up-range in a shooting range) until you have chosen a target. On rare occasions, a weapon can discharge when it is cocked, and the bullet will go in whatever direction the muzzle is pointed. (Much more frequently, the gun may fire because you inadvertently pulled the trigger.) Although most police “discharge incidents” are caused by violating rule 3, there are rare cases where the gun itself is at fault (a Glock in this case). This occurred when a NY police officer loaded his gun in the morning to go to work, but when he racked the slide, it fired. Any time a gun is fired anywhere except the police firing range, it must be investigated because it is automatically assumed to be the officer’s fault. His gun was confiscated and Internal Affairs refused to believe him or test his gun. They were prepared to require retraining in firearms, convene a departmental review, have Internal Affairs personnel questioning his neighbors about whether they had observed any “problems” in the officer’s marriage or had sensed a substance abuse situation, and possibly require psychiatric counseling because the officer refused to admit his obvious lack of responsibility. He finally prevailed on the police armorer (who didn’t believe him either) to check his gun. The armorer didn’t even to enter the police range, but chose to rack the gun outside, and it discharged again, hitting a wall. The armorer entered the range and tried twice more with the same results, except on the third attempt, there was a 3-round burst. The gun was sent to Glock for repair, and Glock accepted no blame or responsibility, but a short while later in 1992, they made a major upgrade (they didn’t call it a recall) to their pistols, replacing six parts (Infamous Glock Upgrade). Play it safe with where you point your gun.

Rule 3 is by far the most important of the four. Even TV cops practice the rule (pay close attention on the next show you watch), but real police often forget or never learn the rule. It often ends badly and the police department gets sued. Stories about people unintentionally touching the trigger are rampant, and if this one isn’t sufficient, they’re easy to find: Glocks Prone to “Accidents”. Sorry to seem to be picking on Glocks, since it’s normally the gun owners who are prone to absent-mindedness. There are safer guns to handle. An external safety can prevent many of these incidents.

Rule 4 is important because you may miss your target and hit someone nearby, or the bullet can pass all the way through the target and hit whatever or whoever is behind it. This is why frangible bullets are often used on airlines. In a recent incident, two NY policemen shot and killed Jeffrey Johnson after he had fatally shot his former boss. Not mentioned on the breaking news is that they also shot and wounded 9 bystanders, which they blamed on Johnson, who didn’t fire a single shot after killing his boss. Mayor Bloomberg continued the lie when he congratulated the officers on a job well done, only later admitting that the police may have shot some of the bystanders. This version of the story includes a video of the event: NY Police Shoot Killer and 9 Bystanders. Remember rule 4.

There are many other important lessons concerning guns such as quick target acquisition (i.e. aiming your gun), proper gun handling and storage, gun care, mindset, dry run target practice, and when not to use your gun. Brandishing your gun when not threatened should get you arrested. There was a story about a man who refused to shoot another man who was in the middle of a shooting spree because he was unable to acquire his target (the shooter) – a hard but wise decision from a legal standpoint. And then there are cases where you simply shouldn’t use your gun (What NOT to Do).

What would I do about gun competence? Along with passing the NICS background check, a prospective gun buyer should be required to be federally certified to at least know the four basic rules (if not more) before being able to buy a gun. The certification would be similar to a driver’s license or concealed carry permit and would be required at the time of purchase. The certification would legally make “accidental shootings” just what they are – flimsy excuses with no legal standing.

What are the drawbacks of certification? It might be viewed as a backhanded method of identifying gun owners by the government. However, the same is true of gun carry permits, which is deemed acceptable, so I can’t see any merit to the argument. Certification could delay the purchase of a firearm. This is a one-time process, and the inconvenience should be minimal.

There is, however, a real legitimate concern. If the government makes certifications an open record, some unscrupulous newspaper may request access to the list and publish names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people with gun certifications. This is an open invitation to exploratory burglary to find firearms. It has already happened in some states with open lists of concealed carry permit holders. Legislation requiring certification must be coupled with privacy concerns.

Recapping Reduction of Gun Violence

I’m suggesting a three-part law. The first part would close all loopholes in NICS background checks. The second part would require locking up any firearm not within reach of the owner and also using a holster when a handgun is not locked up. The last part would require certification that a prospective firearms purchaser is competent to handle a gun and also place liability of an “accidental” shooting on the owner and also guarantee information privacy. (Placement of liability already occurs in some states, but this would make it explicit nationwide.)

Gun violence will continue almost unabated without paying attention to gun safety and ignoring root causes of gun deaths. There may be underlying reasons for gun deaths that I have overlooked, but I am confident that enactment of these laws and adoption of the procedures they legislate could easily reduce gun deaths (excluding suicides) by as much as 50%. Domestic violence is what I see as the single greatest challenge after enactment of these laws.

Other Aspects of Gun Ownership

Every day in the U.S. since the Newtown massacre, an average of 29.9 people were murdered with firearms, and on the day of the inexcusable tragedy of the Newtown massacre, there were 21 other unrelated gun homicides that went pretty much unreported. (Source: Shooting Homicides Since Sandy Hook.) Why inexcusable? They could have been prevented if the guns were locked up. We have become immune to being concerned unless large numbers of people (especially young ones) are killed in a single event. At that point any action taken is seen as worthwhile, regardless of whether it will effectively decrease overall gun violence. I’m not saying current legislative proposals are entirely worthless, but most of them aim at trying to limit mass murders and they miss the point of reducing the ongoing gun deaths (like the other 21 occurring the same day as Sandy Hook). The only exception to the relative ineffectiveness of the current legislative attempts is closing the NICS loopholes.

At this point there will be a complete break in my doom and gloom, and I’ll write about things that I found interesting and ridicule some lawmakers and commentators who have made especially stupid statements. For openers, let me return to the Joe Biden video in which he takes a really stupid viewer question and gives a stunningly stupid answer.

The woman asks Biden if he believes that crime will increase because ordinary people will no longer be able to sufficiently protect themselves since they won’t be able to buy assault rifles or high-capacity magazines. Obviously, there is no other way to protect oneself and no other weapon or magazine can be used. We’re being left completely defenseless!

Biden answers by telling us what he explained to his wife. To preface what he told his wife, first you will need to buy a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun, then build a balcony on your house. Now if you suspect someone is trying to break into your house, step out onto the balcony and fire two blasts at random (rules 2 and 4, anybody?). You may be able to score extra points by hitting your neighbor across the street or his house. If someone was trying to break into your house, they’ll immediately see that your gun is now empty and you’re defenseless, so they’ll run away. It makes perfect sense so far. If no one was trying to break in, at least you’re rid of that annoying neighbor. It’s a win-win situation. Besides, as Biden points out, AR-15s are so hard to aim and use. That’s because an AR-15 is almost a point-and-shoot weapon at close range, has minimal recoil, and it’s difficult figuring out how to pull the trigger. Besides, having 30 rounds is inferior to having an empty shotgun. Biden thought of everything!

It seems that shotguns are, for some reason inherently safer than assault rifles, so my suggestion is to get street sweeper (a fully automatic shotgun like the AA-12, the HK CAWS, or the Pancor Jackhammer). The AA-12 is a 12-gauge shotgun like Biden recommends, but unlike most 12-gauge shotguns, which kick like a mule, it has very little recoil (Why You Really Want an AA-12 – Remember, don’t try this at home; I’m a professional Russian). The AA-12 has some other perks – like a 32-shell drum in addition to the normal 20-round drum. Buy a shotgun! Buy a shotgun!

Many other people were impressed with Biden’s expertise, and they made their own videos. Here’s one of my favorites.

Actually, I’m rather fond of Biden, but not of his feigning expertise and basing national policy on it. Something else I learned from a reporter who appeared on MSNBC is that Dianne Feinstein is an expert on bullet wounds because she stuck her finger into one of Harvey Milk’s wounds after his assassination. That’s it! Now she’s an expert. And I’m an expert on what made Dan White want to kill Milk because I once ate a Twinkie. I know that sounds daring after White’s lawyer’s Twinkie Defense, but I just had to know.

Then there’s Jack Anderson. As most people already know, a “Saturday Night Special” is any gun that is unreliable or inaccurate. We learned from Anderson that this unreliability only applies to .22 caliber pistols, and it applies to all of them. Then there are the wunderkind reporters who don’t know that automatic weapons fire multiple rounds per trigger pull while semi-automatics fire only one. They think the two are identical and that an M16 is indistinguishable from an AR-15. They tell us that a military-grade weapon (usually automatic) is the same as the civilian version. Okay – now I understand. In general, they seem to think that saying assault rifle (usually a carbine) is the same as saying AR-15 because they don’t know of any other assault rifle.

Even worse than Biden, is the expertise of Diana DeGette, who sponsors the legislation to ban future sales and manufacture of High-Capacity Magazines. She thinks that magazines are bullets and once you shoot them, they’re used up and you have to buy a new magazine!!!

 Diana, magazines hold cartridges and they are reusable. Many magazines are built into firearms and are not detachable like these. Some of them use stripper clips for fast reloading.

There are other problems with gun safety that many people never have considered until they were exposed by Al Madrigal: Gun Ctl-Alt-Delete.

Now I’m through with ridicule and griping for a few minutes, and it’s time to shift gears. In the next three parts, I’ll discuss only modern hand-held or bipod-mounted firearm-related topics. The intent is to give you the background to know more than the experts in Washington, D.C. who are shaping gun policy.

 If you are concerned with the accuracy of anything I’ve said so far, please let me know and give me a chance to correct it if it is wrong. There is a lot of information here, so please look at my sources before writing.

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