The Sacred Second (Amendment) and Some Modest Proposals

I’ve been looking at the 2nd Amendment as ratified (“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”) in light of the intractable position taken by some gun nuts that it is an absolute right. It’s pretty clear that federal firearms regulations are full of holes and  the absolute “Sacred Second” has already been held to be anything but.

To hear some grangey varmints talk, them danged lib’rals have done made it illegal to own anything stronger than a pea-shooter. That would be pretty far from the truth. First off (and it was news to me,too), there are no federal regulations on owning a flamethrower, and only about 10 states restrict them, either. Of course having one and using one are different things. Here in a drought state, there seems to be a “burn ban” on most of the time lately. Still, a flamethrower, yeesh! You can also make your own guns to your heart’s content, really, as long as you don’t violate any other laws with them (and that would include selling them without proper licenses or failure to pay proper taxes and transfer fees). Sounds like a danged Stalinist dictatorship already, don’t it?

Private citizens in most states can still purchase machine guns, too (manufactured prior to May 1986) and even bazookas…  if they pay a $200 transfer fee, are 21, a citizen without criminal record, submit fingerprints, clear an FBI background check and fill out the proper forms. IT”S TYRANNY, DAMMIT thought it’s worked out nicely so far, in that since 1934, there appear to have been only two homicides committed with legally owned automatic weapons, one of which was committed by a law enforcement officer.

Likewise, silencers (suppressors) have never been illegal under federal law; they have only been regulated and taxed (hhhhawk, ptoeeewy!). That means that if your state does not prohibit ownership of silencers, you can probably buy one if you are 21, haven’t been convicted of or plead guilty to domestic violence charges, are a  citizen, buy from a registered dealer and pay that all important $200 transfer fee. The only decent study on silencer related convictions I’ve found is this one, which reports 136 total convictions for possession of silencers between 1995 and 2005, with no distinction made between “legally held” and “other” silencers.

So, it looks like charging an extra $200 dollars and requiring additional forms is both constitutional and fairly effective at limiting misuse of weapons.

The supposedly  “absolute right” to own guns is routinely lost or at least suspended after certain criminal acts or even allegations of domestic violence, contrary to a strict reading of the Sacred Second. While I’m sure that there is at least one person, somewhere, that would argue that even a convicted murderer should be allowed to keep and bear arms even while serving his prison term, most gun rights extremists have opted to concede the point as far as convicted felons go, even though there is no exception in the Sacred Second for loss of rights as punishment for past criminal behaviour. Many jurisdictions have also restricted the areas that one can keep and bear arms (not allowing it in establishments that serve liquor, for instance), and property owners can prohibit others keeping and bearing arms while on their property. Thus, the Sacred Second is far from the absolute and fundamental right many in the extremist camp would claim.

Should reasonable agreement on methods of reducing gun violence be unobtainable with gun lobbyists and their supporters, perhaps one or more of these “modest proposals” could be offered up to convince those of  extremist views that other reasonable restrictions could be enacted without running afoul of the Sacred Second:

  1. The most obvious one: Extend the $200 transfer fee to all weapons sales and require the same level of fingerprinting/FBI background check that is needed for full-auto purchases. As many guns as are bought and sold per day in America, this could do a lot to balance the budget as well as reduce gun violence, if the legal-use trends seen with full-auto weapons continue to apply.
  2. Require gun safety and proficiency certification before allowing the purchase of guns. This is a requirement for concealed carry permits (at least in this state), though most of the lecture time is probably spent explaining when/who you can and can’t shoot legally (“No, Mr. Wilkes, kids playing on your lawn are not ‘righteous kills’!”). This measure would help weed out the merely dangerously incompetent and, possibly, some of the crazies.
  3. Require purchasers to maintain gun insurance, and require proof of insurance when buying a gun or ammunition. Insurance companies would insist on knowing what guns you have (yes, they would) and happily charge you accordingly, without federal encroachment.
  4. Put a $2 tax on each bullet. Say goodbye to “spray and pray” drive-by shootings (for the most part, admittedly).
  5. Ban production, import or transfer of ammunition and its components (primers, brass, lead molds, etc). Nothing in the Sacred Second requires the availability of modern ammo (because modern ammo just didn’t exist in 1791).
  6. A variation on the above theme: ban production, import or transfer of ammunition and its components EXCEPT in a novel caliber, say a .50 cal short round, and serialize the ammo. Think of it as the “iPhone 5” bullet, with which your old accessories no longer work. Makes existing guns obsolete, allows identification of criminal shooters and the new guns would be much less concealable, taking care of another aspect of gun crime. And stopping power? Makes a hole big enough to drive a Honda through!
  7. Ban the manufacture, import and transfer of all guns. The 2nd Amendment says “keep” and “bear”, not buy and sell or otherwise convey. If you have a gun, well, congrats! It’s just become a collector’s item. If you are a criminal gun-seller or just want to ‘unload’ your Roscoe, you can make a stack of cash, get out of the criminal life, start a business and get started worrying about the creep you sold your piece to.
  8. Codify the de facto state of affairs: simply declare that all guns are the property of the government, but that you are allowed to keep and bear them until such time as you use them wrongly. Of course this would require a gun census to establish who was keeping and bearing government property, but not having that information now is fairly scandalous as it is.

Extreme positions can only breed extreme workarounds. Wouldn’t it be easier to just accept that guns kill people, killing is bad, and work from there instead of insisting that the only acceptable outcome for preventing gun violence is putting MORE guns out there? I’d just LOVE to hear a coherent argument along the “pro-death” side. Really, I would… but it isn’t going to happen in this lifetime because there isn’t one.

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