Khalil Spencer: A Modest Proposal.

As we continue to accomplish very little with regards to solving the problem of gun violence, I have a modest proposal. Well, maybe not so modest. But what the hell.

NRA showFirst. Stop trying to ban categories of guns such as ARs that have long been in circulation, since that creates a battle royal and since most of these guns are owned with little real risk to society in proportion to the political battle that would ensure if we try to ban them.  The lion’s share of shootings, including multiple shootings, are done with handguns. ARs are a convenient political target for the left as a symbol of what they see as America’s Gun Problem.

But as a hedge, and as I suggested in 2015 we can, if necessary to keep Junior from mowing down his school or place of work, modify the 1934 National Firearms Act to regulate ARs and some handguns, i.e., arms more lethal than garden variety hunting rifles, shotguns, and some large unconcealable handguns, in some manner between machine guns and Dad’s Remington 1100. That doesn’t mean people can’t have exotic guns or, “modern sporting rifles”, or whatever you want to call stuff. It just means it will be a little harder to own more lethal guns, there will be a little more screening, and not every bozo who walks into a gun shop can come out armed to the teeth with his Man Card intact. How we decide what would fall into this category should be decided carefully so we don’t run afoul of Heller or intractable political issues. As a point of discussion, how about if owning “modern sporting rifles” and/or being able to carry concealed require a common, higher level of screening than traditional low capacity firearms and hefty handguns more at home in the woods. A “basic” firearms owners identification card (FOID) could be had by anyone who scores 100% on a Form 4473 and one could upgrade if the spirit moved one.

Secondly, stop trying to keep people from owning guns if they have not proven that they should be disqualified. Once we decide on categories of firearms, how about national reciprocity with ownership? Or at minimum, a state-issued FOID card with national reciprocity? Make it shall-issue after jumping through reasonable hoops.  Each gun owner would have an ID card, similar to a driver’s license, that would allow some or all categories of guns to be owned, openly or concealed, analogous to a license that allows individuals to drive just cars vs allowing the person to drive cars, motorcycles, eighteen wheelers, etc. Of course this means red and blue states have to compromise on M.Q.’s but in return, we could stop talking about gun running from so called weak law to strong law states and I could plink at tin cans with my old man’s hand cannons in NYS without fear of being chased down by Andrew Cuomo. State level sensitivities such as not carrying in government buildings could be preserved. What a concept.

Background checks? Easy.  Private sales/transfers between owners would be done by entering a computerized NICS-like system with a pair of FOID numbers, PINs, a gun serial number and description and presto, a private exchange is done between previously cleared people based on their level of screening. You want to be screened to own an M-60 for shits and grins or sell one to your buddy who is equally screened? Sure, why not? Right now there are hundreds of thousands of legally owned machine guns. They are never in the news because you have to be pretty squeaky clean to own one.  Just show you are responsible for the damn thing and God bless ya.  Just make sure you can afford the ammo.

Finally, stop moving the goalposts and messing with people who have never crossed paths with the law. The biggest, and often enough legitimate fear that gun owners have is that the rules are too fluid and often the changes are bewilderingly stupid. Want examples? Start with California. These situations make Molon Labe an understandable, if not a legally defensible response. Plus, these situations result in single issue politics at the polls, which doesn’t help the bigger issue of running the country.  The recent editorial by Santa Fe Mayor Webber, i.e., that he would attempt to circumvent the state constitution’s preemption clause, is yet another example of why gun owners are wary of trusting government. Sure did bug me that this showed up in the Santa Fe New Mexican three months after I moved here. No, I didn’t get a call from Mr. Mayor as a “responsible gun owner”, either.

I think we need to do more to keep guns under control, i.e, from being diverted from the legal to the illegal side of the house and to ensure the irresponsible dofus and clearly identified legal loose cannon is not sending rounds whizzing past my hair do. That means some controls on ownership (i.e., theft prevention and periodic cross-referencing with court records) and transfer (to ensure you don’t sell that semiauto to someone about to blow away his wife after she got a restraining order against her slap-happy hubby). But if the laws are designed to control transfer  and reward lawful ownership rather than prevent ownership by good people (i.e., California et al), maybe we can get past the impasse.

The 2A was written so that a citizen militia (of whoever passed for a citizen back then) could be called on to defend the state and/or nation and to try to prevent the unwarranted amassing of power by a government that no longer represents its people. UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler covered that pretty well in Gunfight and there have been numerous papers written about the evolution of arms and self defense in England and America. Heller’s contribution was explicitly including in the 2A the right to have a usable weapon for self defense in the home. The historical reasoning behind the 2A implies some standards need to be met among the people. For one, it would be wise if we don’t elect assholes who we might genuinely worry about as far as usurping excessive power (hence the ballot box and high school diploma with an A in rhetoric and civics are far more powerful tools than the sword) and two, that we know the limits of being armed and therefore, know muzzle from breech as well as the law of self defense. No American who has thought carefully about the often-used Jefferson quote about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants wants to live in an Anbar Province, no matter how pissed off he gets at Big Gubbmint. Any doubts? Read the history of the Civil War.

Fix the country with a saw and hammer, not with a match and gasoline.


19 thoughts on “Khalil Spencer: A Modest Proposal.

  1. Well you failed, you didn’t piss me off! 🙂

    I did find a lot of your points perplexing.

    #1: Why do hunting arms get the free pass? I understand you’re a hunter, and that you’re older than me and from that era.

    I’ve read reports that hunting is on the decline, I don’t necessarily trust those reports, but the reality is that the people who are buying all the guns right now are younger, and majority are non-rural (mostly from population dynamics) and this is why at the NRAAM my friends and I were bored to tears at all the AR-pattern rifles and double-stack, striker-fired, polymer-framed pistols. These are the guns these people are going for.
    This group is primarily owning guns for personal defense, and club shooting. They might not be opposed to hunting, but it’s not on the top of the ticket.

    Also the Second Amendment has NOTHING to do with hunting.

    Furthermore with the number of people returning from our massive overseas escapades, and who often took their first shots in basic training, these are people who when they might choose to get into hunting, either as a simple hobby, or as a means to combat PTSD, these are people who will gravitate to the AR-15 which can be configured easily for any kind of hunting in much of the world.

    And really its no different from previous generations. The Winchester Model 70 is essentially a Mauser Rifle….or a Springfield 1903. We have always hunted with “Military Style Rifles” in this country.

    #2. Your FOID idea isn’t a terrible one, except that it reeks of poll tax. I would counter with the more libertarian proposal that if somebody is convicted of a prohibitive crime, all their state and federally issued IDs must be seized and they are re-issued an ID with a Scarlett “F” for “Felon” (I’ll take a less literary suggestion) and all future ID will bear that “F” until the charge is expunged (which there should be an avenue for).

    This will also have an added effect of showing people just how petty our Felony convictions have become. Back in ’68 when Felonies were officially legislated as a exemption for your 2nd Amendment Rights, there were not nearly as many felonies, and they were for more egregious anti-social crimes.

    #3 I love the ID for opening up the NICS….except why do we need Serial numbers and gun models? If the seller legally owns the guns, and the buyer can legally own guns, let them exchange goods however they see fit. Serial numbers just lead me to think of registries, and registries are used so infrequently by law enforcement that they easily can be approximated as zero.

    Of course in the end, we’re just two dudes talking, as currently the 2nd Amendment Lobby isn’t pushing very hard for changes I think need to be made, and the ONLY push for changes on the other side comes directly from Michael Bloomberg, and Michael Bloomberg alone….and if you are not reading his statements and seeing that he wants to ban all firearms in private hands, I think we have something more important to talk about first.

    • #1. I gave a lot of traditional hunting rifles and pistols a greater pass given they are harder to conceal, hence less used in street crime, and also seem to be less common than high capacity stuff in high impact shooting incidents, the UT Austin slaughter notwithstanding.

      Indeed, the 2A was not about hunting. From my limited read of history, the Founders thought owning guns for hunting, etc was so self evident that some states didn’t consider it (and some did). As Garry Wills once opined, its a painful stretch of language to say one bears arms against a rabbit. But the history of gun regulation in America for purposes related to defense and the militia does not exclude some controls over how actual arms are kept as well as borne. See Adam Winkler’s pretty good book “Gunfight”.

      I think we agree that many if not most arms that became sporting arms started out as “weapons of war”, to toss that phrase back at the GVP crowd. The Mauser action in its various incarnations, my cherished 1911s or even the innocuous 38 Special revolver. The Browning autoloading hunting rifle in 30/06 is not all that different from the M-1 Garand (5 rds vs. 8 and the pretty vs. the military stocks). Etc. I think as modern battlefield assault type rifles (StG 44, AK-47, AR-15/M-16, etc) were invented to supply more firepower to the battlefield, one has to ask how these integrate into civilian ownership in a public risk vs. individual freedom perspective. Confining civilian versions to semiauto is not that big a difference as I think we have gone to burst fire in the military and even in semiauto trim without a “bump stock” these provide plenty of firepower to the guy on the street. We never worried about this back in the sixties when we were starting out on the path to these new rifles in the military and now, having seen admittedly few but horrific misuse of them, we have to grapple with the misuse.

      #2. Agree. I think that if the government wants to pass such a proposal, the fees should not be a de-facto method of prohibiting people from exercising a right. Indeed, to borrow that overused phrase, “if it saves one life..” it should be cheap if not free since the lawless taking of lives costs society a lot of money and mental anguish.

      #3. The idea of identifying the gun in my scheme was that since I advocate progressive licensing, one might want to have a way to ensure that the firearm being transferred is going to someone who is cleared to own it. Of course, the notion that legal today, illegal tomorrow comes to mind.

      Anyway, this was all an attempt to throw something on the table for people to take potshots at. Good points you make, and thank you.

  2. To the first commentator I would say if it’s just Michael Bloomberg who wants to see change, I guess you think that the students who were shot up in Parkland who have started a national movement of young people to make schools safe are just a hoax. And the public opinion polls showing that most Americans want to see “sporting rifles” banned and expanded checks is also a made up story.

    Khal, Koper’s recent analysis in the Journal of Urban Health shows that assault-style weapons are accounting for an increasing percentage of street crimes and murders of police officers. While not ideal, regulating AR-15s and other military-style weapons under the National Firearms Act would only be an acceptable option for me if all current owners must go through the full screening and the weapons are registered. Grandfathering provisions that would exempt the millions of present owners would make a sham of this policy. We hear about the responsible owners, but some of their kids are getting a hold of these and other weapons and shooting up schools. We need better storage practices and laws as well as the repeal of The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which uniquely shields the gun industry from liability for slaughters associated with its products.

    • And Who owns the March For Our Lives Brand, Tom?

      Also much like the polling on universal background checks, I think you’ll find that when the polls have ballot boxes the results will be very different.

  3. Your focus on PHYSICAL injuries is very disappointing. The psychological harm caused by mass shootings is dramatically higher (in terms of numbers) than for other shootings. Typically there are thousands of traumatised people injured for life at mass shootings that are perpetrated by people with assault weapons for which they have no constitutional right to own.

    If we accept the metric that each person knows 600 people – ONE mass shooting can cause psychological damage to over a million people – thanks to assault weapons that are the mass shooters current weapon of choice.

    The psychological harm caused by assault weapons is as significant as , if not more significant than that of non assault weapons shootings.

    We need to get rid of weapons that are used almost exclusively for causing mass harm.

    • Your Use Of the word “Exclusively” even With The Qualifier “Almost” Is Not true.

      Furthermore I’d like to see a citation on people having a true social circle of 600, I have read research to the contrary.

      Just for a starting reference

    • You can speculate about motive all you want so I will too. There are probably 10 million or more “Modern Sporting Rifles”, otherwise known as civilian versions of modern military rifles, out there, so obviously most are not used exclusively for mass harm. Most are owned for various reasons, i.e., they are fun, accurate, modular, are owned by people who own them to make a political statement, etc.

      As far as Tom’s question, I would give current owners a substantial grace period to get themselves qualified to own them but would certainly not assume anyone who owns one was a potential mass shooter. I shot the hell out of my brother’s Daniel Defense rifle over the weekend while on vacation, but it never occurred to me to run out to the nearest shopping mall with murder in my mind..

      • ‘There are probably 10 million or more “Modern Sporting Rifles”, otherwise known as civilian versions of modern military rifles’

        Noting of course the M16 (which is a Derivative of the AR-15) was adopted in 1964, and designed in 1956, and of course we’re differentiating it from other military rifles that have been brought into sporting use and have had civilian versions made.

        Khal, you make an amazing point that is lost to the gun-banners. I own semi-auto rifles, some of them like my SKS is an honest-to-god military rifle, nothing sporting about it, (of course it has a fixed magazine and a wood stock, so not an “Assault Weapon”) but I have no interest, desire to commit an atrocity, and I’m damn insulted by the implication often made by people who want to ban tools.

        Furthermore some horrible attacks have been carried out with “Safe” “Sporting Arms”, by crazy people with crazy ideas. The fact that we generally ignore and bungle outright dangerous people (the events leading up to the Parkland Shooting being the most shining example), or better yet, focus on making sure they (and by effect everybody around them) doesn’t have guns….or more hilarious “Bad Guns”, but leave them to wander about aimlessly in society all in the name of a political agenda is foolish.

  4. The essential point that Denis is making that mass shootings have a disproportionate impact on a community’s and country’s psychological well being is correct. Mental health studies also show that many bystanders in a mass shooting suffer from PTSD. Many kids experiencing active shooter drills have nightmares and parents across the country are terrified to send them to school. These are the consequences of the high casualty mass shootings usually committed with military-style weapons.

    • I would argue the kids being afraid of school shootings is directly proportionate to the amount of news coverage shootings get and the amount of effort the corporate anti-gun lobby has spent adjusting the definition of “spree shooting” and “school shooting” to make the gang-land violence count the same as Sandy Hook.

      This is a similar phenomenon to people being afraid to fly over concerns of a crash but are perfectly comfortable riding in an automobile.

      • When I hear the kids talking about fear of going to school I wonder how many are afraid to get a ride home from a drinking party with someone who has consumed too much beer to be driving. Lots more kids die that way each year.

  5. Tom- I still request your rationale for using Weisser’s ‘Expertise’. Can you share with us the exact area(s) of knowledge, education or study that qualify?

    • I have responded under another thread–“It’s the Guns Stupid”. My qualifications are at: Now 40 years of experience as a professor, researcher, author, expert witness, and international consultant on the topic of violence and criminal justice. I wish you would stick to the topic rather than trying to distract through attempting to discredit me. I’m familiar with that game.

  6. I just got back from a trip and am pretty jet lagged. Just reading through these and digesting them. Thanks, folks, for all the thoughtful comments. That was the point of me throwing this article out there. And of course, thanks to Mike for publishing it.

  7. What I really appreciate about this thread is that we can calmly discuss various options and viewpoints without getting nasty. The fact is, someone has to come up with solutions, and perhaps some compromises. Because if we can’t compromise, then one side or the other will win out every 4 to 8 years depending on who is in office. Intelligent compromises tend to survive political winds. (We just have to make sure we don’t make stupid compromises… I’m sure we’ve all heard some dumb ideas on various sides of the issue.)

    I’m a liberal Dem with a collection of guns and an AR15 I don’t fancy parting with. I also have a daughter in high school and I want her to feel safe (kids don’t these days, which just makes me sad). I like many of Khal’s suggestions, and while I don’t like the idea of a National Registry (OK, liberal Dem bordering on Libertarian), in part because I fear someone getting my data and breaking into my home to steal my shit, I do like the idea of passing a background check and some proof of responsibility, much like I did with my driver’s license (with additional motorcycle endorsement, which is a good analogy to my CC permit).

    If I gotta compromise by passing some additional exams (bring em on!), paying a small processing fee (not a poll tax), and taking a chance that some fella in China will hack the Fed database, well that’s OK if fewer guns get into the wrong hands. But if that’s not the right solution, then let’s keep talking. Reasonably. I’ll keep an open mind if you will.

    But we do have to come up with something that works. I don’t want to have to deal with the Feds staking me out to confiscate my guns in 2030 because we didn’t get this right. I don’t want the pendulum swinging back and forth into crazy territory on both sides.

    I wrote a bit more about this a few months ago, for anyone who cares:

    • Rich, Great comment, and I’ll certainly check out your blog.

      I think one of the big issues on why there is no compromise in the gun debate is how the compromise field has been laid out.

      In the past Compromise is always something the gun owners need to do, and the compromises we get from the anti-gun groups is that the next restriction won’t be as hard as they want to do it.

      Take the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which I mark as the high water mark for the anti-gun lobby to date. The ban went through, and with the NRA’s blessing, and what we got was Grandfathered guns and magazines (ie there was no confiscation or mandatory buy-back of pre-ban guns) and we got the 10 year Sunset clause.

      Note that there wasn’t anything gun owners actually GOT out of the deal, we lost, we just didn’t lose as hard as we could (Lord knows without that Sunset clause we would probably still have the Federal AWB, given how poorly Concealed Carry Reciprocity and the Hearing Protection Act went).

      Even in your own, quite moderate comment, you are framing the argument the same way. What can we gun owners give up to help the anti-gun people.

      Meanwhile, even Mike, who I would argue is WAYYY to charitable to the corporate anti-gun lobby admits that there are tons of gun laws that are just outright stupid.

      If the anti-gun lobby wanted to get an actual dialog going I think two points would have a HUGE chance of breaking the current gridlock.

      #1. Admitting that many of the gun laws we currently have are ineffective, pointless, or intentionally onerous.

      #2. Cede ground to the gun owners. Both the bad laws (a great federal example is the fact that I can be up with my family in Maine, stop in a gun shop and pick up a rifle or shotgun, buy it, and bring it home….note I also need to do a separate Massachusetts step and Register it….BTW with a Registry that is never used for any public safety purposes, that’s another thing to cede, but on the State level. But If I see a handgun I like, I need to have it shipped to a dealer in Massachusetts and take possession of it here. It’s the same background check, so why the extra step?) but also take steps to make compliance with the law easier.
      Such examples might be adding to a Universal background check bill, a way to privately access the NICS database from personal internet, so we don’t need to drive to a shop, and pay an employee for their time carrying out the transaction. Or if we want to declare AR-15s and similar “Weapons of War” then let’s do that, and remove the Hughes Amendment from the NFA. So if I want an AR-15, I can buy one, it’s just now a registered machine gun, and I have to pay my tax on it.

      I’m not particularly moderate when it comes to my 2nd Amendment views, but even the more moderate people in my circle want NOTHING to do with ANYBODY who entertains gun control laws, because no matter what the law is, there is NEVER anything good in it for us except for the nebulous promise of increased public safety…..which is not a very easy thing to prove with past laws.

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