Federal Gun Control: Applying Principles

Federal Gun Control: Applying Principles

So, what is the best way for our federal government to address our country’s gun problem? If bumper stickers are to be believed, the government has an array of choices, such as: removing guns “From My Cold, Dead Hands” to passing a law that “Arms are for Hugging” to adopting an “Arm a Teacher, Save a Child” strategy.

Principle Based Politics, though, does not advocate for any of the advice from bumper stickers, and, if it had a car, would not have any of those stickers on it. Nor would the author of this blog. We have other ideas more in line with our principles, as explained below.    

Is it the Federal Government’s Place to Get Involved?

All complex issues are best approached one layer at a time. Gun violence is no exception, to say the least. The first step, then, as always, is to unpeel the layers until you get to the core. On gun issues, the first, threshold layer was whether the Constitution’s Second Amendment even allows any restrictions on gun rights, which our last post answered in the affirmative. We think everyone would agree that there are at least some people who should not be allowed to own or carry some types of guns into some places. The second layer of the question is what role the federal government—as opposed to states or cities—should play. And the third question is what gun restrictions should be imposed. Now we will focus on the second layer, and in closing we will focus on the third.

The principle of limited government controls the question of the federal role. What we mean by limited government is that our federal government must do only what (1) needs to be done and (2) others cannot do. This is a very strict test, because we, like the framers of our Constitution, are instinctively against broad, expansive government. For the federal government to get involved, both of these criteria must be met. Given the serious problem of gun violence in America, we do believe it is clear that something needs to be done. The principles of peace and protecting the vulnerable combine to tell us that. Potential victims of gun crimes are vulnerable, as are the suicidal. Leaders who understand the facts and desire peace realize this, and they agree that legislative solutions must be attempted.  

But is the federal government the only entity that can “do something”? One category for legitimate federal involvement is essential action requiring coast-to-coast consistency and comprehensiveness that only the national government can provide. On the topic of gun violence, the country is only as strong as its weakest link, which does necessitate some federal control. Because a gun is easily transported across city and state lines after it is sold, little protection occurs from a patchwork system of local- or state-level restrictions. The private sector is utterly powerless to fix this problem. Politically, too, the federal government is more likely to pass a useful and comprehensive law than the 50 states could. This leads to the conclusion that federal legislation is needed.

A Principled Look at the Legal Options

Now that we have established that the Second Amendment allows some regulation of guns, that a solution to gun violence across the country is needed, and that the federal government is the only entity that could possibly provide that solution, we can discuss what the “something” is that the government should “do”. 

Several options have been suggested, and some even have been attempted in certain parts of the country. These ideas cover both the types of people allowed to own and possess guns and the types of guns people can own and possess. Some of the best law ideas of which we are aware are as follows:

  • Removing guns from people with felony convictions. Through a 1968 federal law, people convicted of crimes punishable by sentences greater than one year cannot buy, sell, own, use, or carry a gun or ammunition. This law should be strictly enforced.
  • Temporarily removing guns from people suffering from serious mental illness or posing other extreme risks. This type of law can be initiated based on requests from law enforcement or family members, with a judge ordering the removal. The current federal gun law regarding the mentally ill applies only to those already committed to mental institutions, who face the same restrictions as convicted felons. (By the way, the gun lobby’s attempts to frame America’s violence as solely a mental health issue is an unfortunate diversionary tactic. Yes, America has a mental health problem that causes many to die by gunshot, and we need to work on the mental health crisis, too. But that does not mean gun ownership should not be controlled.)
  • Background checks on gun buyers, to include private sales and sales at gun shows. This would include all transfers of gun ownership from one individual to another. At last count, some 40 percent of gun purchases occur without background checks because they take place at gun shows or through other person-to-person sales. In 1998, the FBI launched the National Instant Background Check System, which currently applies only to licensed dealers, manufacturers, and importers, and it contains the names of persons not allowed to own or possess a gun. Background checks should be mandatory for all gun sales. Period.
  • Banning consumer sales of assault weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and the related ammunition. The last such federal ban was passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. It has not been replaced. Fully automatic weapons already are regulated, and semi-automatic ones should be as well.

To reiterate our prior post and the first main section above, we acknowledge the Second Amendment and agree it must be honored. We believe strongly in the principle of limited government and, quite frankly, it pains us to conclude that an issue is desperate and that nobody is better positioned to help than the federal government. But gun violence is that situation. Therefore, we have no choice other than to support a narrow, reasonable, and helpful federal law to control gun sale and possession.

We are not naïve. Surely, people will continue to get shot and die even if all of the above provisions become law. Guns will not disappear from the United States. Criminality will persist. Mental illness always will exist. Nevertheless, we must try to reduce the shooting and dying, the arming of criminals, and the availability of guns to the mentally ill.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts twice each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

Future political issues to be analyzed under our principle-based method include: taxation, climate change and the environment, regulation, abortion, social benefits programs (including Social Security), law enforcement, health care, and foreign relations.

  • Bryan Seiffert
    Posted at 17:40h, 16 July Reply

    An interesting read. I have read quite a bit on the original intent by our founders of the 2nd Ammendment, the history following and how it may apply. There is certainly not agreement in exactly how it would apply today. I will leave that to greater minds than my own.
    As to the point of Federal Government enacting common laws that would apply nation wide as gun ownership can easily be transported accross states, I believe this is a valid point.
    When it gets to the proposed new regulations or laws governing sales and ownership, I believe many proposed common sense appearing laws often are not based in cause and effect evidence. Passions around gun debates are almost as abundant as misunderstandings about what current laws actually do and how proposals would change them.
    Removing guns from people with felony convictions: I agree with this existing law. How do you propose to increase the enforcement you suggest?

    Temporarily removing guns from people suffering from serious mental illness or posing other extreme risks. These are commonly referred to as Red-flag laws. I would agree with these to remove firearms as long as they are temporary(6 mo – 1 yr) with a full hearing and due process later.

    Background checks on gun buyers, to include private sales and sales at gun shows: Federal law governs all of these the same(and online sales). It is not the location that dictates background checks is is who is selling the firearm. Under current law if you are in the business of buying and selling guns, you have to have a FFL and complete background checks. … no mater the location. The exception is the person who can sell his private collection and here it can get a little vague. There is no gun show loop hole, the same laws apply here as anywhere. As well some gun shows only allow FFL licensed dealers. Private sales and transferring from family members is exempt from requiring a background check. President Biden stated April 8th “Most people don’t know it, you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want, and no background check.” Not true and repeated overstatements or outright mistruths add to the misunderstandings and emotionalism in this country. In fact some states have additional laws that cover all sales at gun shows.

    The 40% you state as guns sold without background checks may not be close to accurate. This 40% was stated by President Obama in 2013 but found not true and the authors of the survey said “we don’t know the current percentage, nor does anyone” but this is an often repeated claim.
    But lets back up a minute. Popular opinion and common sense would say background checks are a good thing – but how effective are they are preventing misuse of guns? Background checks don’t stop criminals from stealing firearms, getting them on the black market, or getting them from straw purchasers. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), 77 percent of criminals in state prison for firearm crimes get firearms through theft, on the black market, from a drug dealer or “on the street,” or from family members and friends, while less than one percent get firearms from dealers or non-dealers at gun shows.
    ATF has said, “Those that steal firearms commit violent crimes with stolen guns, transfer stolen firearms to others who commit crimes, and create an unregulated secondary market for firearms, including a market for those who are prohibited by law from possessing a gun.”[9]

    ATF has reported, “[t]he most frequent type of trafficking channel identified in ATF investigations is straw purchasing from federally licensed firearms dealers. Nearly 50 percent . . . .” Criminals defeat the background check system by getting guns through straw purchasers. The terrorists who attacked in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015, used firearms they acquired through a straw purchaser.
    Background checkes would not have prevented many to most of the mass shootings.

    An increased background check law may make politicians feel like they are addressing the issue but it doesn’t appear based in evidence. We have quite a number of Federal laws in this category already that would prevent ‘legal’ transfer of firearms. See below:

    Federal law prohibits transferring a firearm to anyone known or believed to be prohibited from possessing firearms. (18 USC992(d))
    Federal law prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a handgun outside his state of residence and prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a rifle or shotgun from a non-licensee outside his state of residence. (18 USC 992(a)(3))
    Federal law prohibits anyone from transferring a handgun to a non-licensee who resides in another state (with rare exceptions), and prohibits a non-licensee from transferring any firearm to a non-licensee who resides in another state. (18 USC 922(a)(5))
    Federal law prohibits the acquisition of a firearm on behalf of a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms. (18 USC 922(h) and 922(a)(6))
    Federal law prohibits anyone from providing a handgun to a juvenile (person under age 18), and prohibits juveniles from possessing handguns, with limited exceptions. (18 USC 922(x))
    Federal law also prohibits dealers from selling rifles or shotguns to persons under age 18. (18 USC 922(b)(1))

    Banning consumer sales of assault weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and the related ammunition:
    First ‘assault weapon’ is a polarizing term to use in any of these discussion as it is mostly a made up term used indiscriminately by those who know the least about firearms. The term is based on a military designed rifle that can be selectively used in either a fully automatic and semi automatic mode of fire. This label has also been attached to military looking rifles that are only semi-automatic and are very popular for sporting uses. Secondly using the term ‘weapon’ indicates the use of that firearm to create bodily damage and plays into blaming the firearm itself.
    Controlling semi-automatic firearms? That would include all of the assault looking firearms as well, all pistols, most current shotguns sold today, most of the sporting .22 rifles for youth, and many of the sporting rifles for big game. An enormous task and would involve confiscation of many many millions of firearms. I believe that would be overeach of Federal government and possibly one of the intents of the 2nd ammendment that was originally drafted. Besides protection of the 2nd ammendment, are there sporting uses for semi-automatics that can not be met by bolt action or single shot firearms. Yes, semi-automatics provide less recoil signature to those who are smaller in stature like youth, women, older individuals etc and allows them to participate in skeet, trap, target shooting as well as hunting small and big game.

    Many who propose new gun control laws are those who are not gun owners nor have the knowledge and experince with firearms. I would like to see round table discussions by those looking to reduce firearm related shooting and include avid sportsman vs. the current standoff we have by current control advocates and those who won’t give an inch for fear of confiscation. Discussions based on facts and ideas that will can provide results everyone is looking for. Many of the laws proposed affect the law abiding citizens with little or no impact on the criminals.
    Criminals: One who doesn’t abide by the laws. How can we control human nature?

    All for now.

  • Admin
    Posted at 18:18h, 16 July Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Bryan! You clearly have put a lot of study and thought into this issue. As far as keeping guns out of the hands of felons, I realize there already is a law banning the sale of firearms and ammunition to convicted felons. Having the background checks extend to all gun sales is one way to enhance the effectiveness of the existing law.

    I really appreciate your interest in this important topic.

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