Decades ago, the head of one the most venerable gun-control groups explained the long-term strategy: “The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors-totally illegal.” (The New Yorker, July 29, 1976).
Some things have changed. The group quoted above changed its name thrice, most recently to “Brady.” Gun control no longer aims only at handguns. But the basic approach has been constant.
Reducing firearms production. Starting in 1998, the Brady Campaign organized lawsuits designed to bankrupt the firearms industry. Allegedly, firearms manufacturers and retailers who complied with all laws regarding arms sales were responsible for the acts of gun criminals. In response, Colorado, most other states, and eventually Congress passed legislation forbidding such abusive lawsuits.
Democratic presidential candidates Biden and Sanders favor repealing lawsuit limits. In the meantime, gun-control organizations are working to convince courts to invent loopholes in the federal statute. They have succeeded in the Connecticut Supreme Court.
In California since 2013, all new models of semiautomatic handguns have been prohibited. A California statute outlaws all new models unless they can double-microstamp ammunition cases. No technology exists to perform such a feat. Even the inventor of double-microstamping has been unable to demonstrate that his mechanism meets the impossible California standards.
Registration. Confiscating guns (step 3) is much harder if the government does not know who has which guns (step 2). The “background check” law enacted by the Colorado legislature in 2013 is also a system for gun registration. For example, if you go on vacation for three weeks, and store your guns at your cousin’s house, to reduce the risk of theft, you are supposed to first go to a gun store with your cousin. The store will fill out all the same registration forms as if your cousin were buying firearms from the store’s inventory. When you return from vacation, you and the cousin must return to the gun store, to repeat the paperwork. This time, you will be treated as if you were buying firearms from the store’s inventory.
The obvious purpose of this is to get as many guns as possible recorded on the federal gun registration forms that firearms dealers must keep for each gun they sell.
According to the head of the National Institute of Justice under President Obama, “universal background checks” are unenforceable unless the government already has comprehensive registration lists. So as political circumstances allow, the gun-control lobbies demand universal registration, to close the supposed “loophole” in background checks.
Confiscation. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom used registration lists for confiscation — euphemistically called a “buy back,” even though the government never owned the guns. Such confiscation has been praised by many American gun-control advocates. Several months ago, Virginia Gov. Northam proposed confiscating so-called “assault weapons.”
While confiscation was not enacted in Virginia, it has been in New York City and California, where all guns are registered. Some confiscations are slow motion, allowing current owners to keep their arms until they die, but not to pass them on to their heirs. This is what Colorado does with magazines and New York City does with what it calls “assault weapons,” such as 6-shot bolt-action rifles.
Every inconvenience possible. The more people who own firearms, the harder it is to pass anti-gun laws. Reducing the number of people who possess firearms helps with step one (reduce production), and is necessary in the long run for steps two and three.
New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York City, the United Kingdom and Australia provide the model: First, enact a licensing system. Then, as anti-gun officials make applications arduous, people are discouraged from acquiring their first firearm. Over a generation, the system greatly reduces firearms ownership.
Another approach is the 2018 Bloomberg law passed in Washington state. If you own a Winchester Model 1903 rifle, which uses low-power .22 caliber ammunition and has a maximum capacity of 10 rounds, you supposedly have a “semiautomatic assault rifle.” You must waive your medical privacy and pay special fees, which fund a bureaucracy to inspect your medical records at least once a year. Naturally, many people will forego firearm acquisition rather than surrender medical privacy. Which is the point of the law.
Waiting periods that require two trips to a store to buy a single gun might not matter to someone who resides near the Cabela’s in Thornton. But for the busy rancher or farmer who lives hours away from a gun store, the additional burden is high enough to make firearms acquisition impossible, especially during peak periods.
Alternatively, California’s badly-administered new laws for background checks on ammunition is making ammunition purchases impossible for many lawful buyers.
Maximizing harassment of law-abiding gun owners is a feature, not a bug, of gun control. The fewer gun owners, the easier to constrict the remnant of clingers.
David Kopel, a constitutional lawyer and author of numerous books, is an adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law and research director of the Independence Institute in Denver.