Reasonable Gun Laws

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Reasonable Gun Laws

by Ari Armstrong, January 4, 2000

The anti-gun-owner lobby is expert at using emotionalized slogans to push their political agenda. Freedoms become "loopholes," rifles become "assault weapons," victim disarmament laws become "gun control," mandatory gun lock-up laws are called "safe storage."

And laws which empower criminals, leave victims defenseless, and trample Constitutional liberties are called "reasonable gun laws."

However, there is nothing reasonable about newly proposed laws that would further restrict the rights of gun owners. The anti-gun-owner lobby habitually misrepresents the facts, slings mud at civil rights advocates, and ignores the usefulness of guns for self-defense. It is the antithesis of reason.

In Colorado and around the nation, some politicians who normally support freedom are now tempted to jump on the "reasonable gun law" bandwagon. However, such politicians forget that public opinion is influenced by strong civil leaders. Those who sell out civil rights today for short-term comfort will find they are forced to give up even more freedoms tomorrow. Is political victory worth the price of adopting the agenda of your enemies?

By supporting an unjust law, you surrender the argument on principle and assure you'll never be taken seriously by the populace as an advocate of freedom. When you act as though a law is "reasonable" when you know in fact it is not, you commit a lie. If instead you take a moral stand and explain your principles and reasoning to your constituents, you may just win their hearts and minds. Victory is by no means assured, but the alternative dooms the cause of freedom to defeat and humiliation. Acting with integrity earns self-respect and, just maybe, the respect of others as well.

Civil rights advocates are necessarily often relegated to the role of reactionary. The United States started out with the Bill of Rights and remained free of any federal gun restriction law for almost 150 years, until 1934. Those who support the right of self-defense look back to a nearly forgotten age of Constitutional standards.

The problem comes when reaction becomes an end in itself, and the ideals of human liberty are forgotten. This phenomenon is manifest in the National Rifle Association's new political strategy, "enforce the laws now on the books, don't pass new laws." Those who repeat this saying forget that the "laws on the books" include a host of provisions which violate the rights and safety of the people. It's not enough to oppose new bad laws. We must reclaim the heritage of civil rights our Founding Fathers bled for. We must proclaim with vision what we stand for, not merely what we oppose. Only then can we hope to prevail.

A Reasonable Standard

Reasonable gun laws must pass a reasonable standard. Genuinely reasonable gun laws recognize that honest citizens use private arms to defend themselves against violent criminals over two million times each year. Politicians who support truly reasonable gun laws realize that private arms protect women against rapists, minorities against violent racists and other bigots, and all citizens against the potential threat of tyranny.

Can the law restrain the criminal mis-use of guns? Of course it can, just as it can restrain the criminal mis-use of knives, just as it can restrain one from falsely yelling "fire" in a theater.

However, reasonable gun laws are not created by an orgy of anti-gun emotionalism, nor or they passed by politicians who prey on peoples' fears in order to heighten their own social power.

Reasonable gun laws protect the innocent and preserve civil rights. Reasonable gun laws are drawn up according to the principles of justice.

The central principle of reasonable gun laws is that no inherently legitimate activity should be subject to prior restraint.

This principle applies to all civil rights. For instance, a writer does not need to obtain a government license to open a newspaper or start a political web page. Book publishers cannot be restricted by the fiats of politicians.

Lawful people should not have to ask the government first before they can exercise their rights of self-defense. The rights and welfare of the many must not be sacrificed because of the crimes of a few. The legitimate purpose of the law is to establish penalties against criminal actions only, penalties which deter the crimes of others.

Reasonable gun laws do not create a federal felony out of cutting the stock or barrel of a shotgun a millimeter too short. Reasonable gun laws do not require national registration of all gun dealers. Reasonable gun laws do not prohibit honest, private citizens from owning or buying small pistols, semiautomatic or fully automatic firearms, or noise suppressers. Reasonable gun laws do not require every law-abiding citizen to undergo a government background check before buying a gun, nor do they force people to prove their innocence before exercising that right.

Reasonable gun laws do not attempt to use the Commerce Clause to invalidate the rest of the Constitution at whim. They do not allow militarized federal enforcers to bust down peoples' doors in the middle of the night, wearing black masks and waving submachine guns at women and children, based on unsubstantiated rumors that the occupants may have violated an arbitrary federal statute. Reasonable gun laws do not establish arbitrary powers such as those which led to the ATF entrapping Randy Weaver into selling a too-short shotgun, or to FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shooting Vicki Weaver in the head as she cradled her infant in her arms, or to the ATF and FBI torching the Mt. Carmel Center over an alleged violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

No, gun laws in America today are not reasonable. And newly proposed laws will only make a bad situation worse.

Reasonable laws restrict the criminal mis-use of guns and all instruments. A person who uses a gun (or a knife or a lead pipe) to murder, rape, rob, or destroy property must face severe penalties.

Restricting felons from possessing firearms is too broad. A person who committed a so-called "white collar" crime ten years ago should not be kept from owning a firearm to protect her family. Violent criminals should be prohibited from keeping weapons in general. However, surely some process should be in place to recognize those who have truly atoned for their crimes and become responsible.

No innocent person should be restrained in the name of controlling crime. Honest-citizen background checks raise the costs of guns and frequently deny innocent people permission while doing little if anything to disarm criminals. Thus, such laws increase criminal victimization.

Of course, if a person knowingly provides a gun to someone with criminal intent or to a violent felon, he or she has become an accomplice to crime. Let the law judge accordingly.

Civil law is already able to handle cases of negligence when a person through gross irresponsibility allows a criminal to obtain a gun. Of course, gun sellers should be subject to the same standards of other industries. When a drunk kills with a car, nobody sues the car lot. When a gangster uses a bat to murder, nobody sues the lumber yard. No law should mandate storage requirements. Such proposals ignore the usefulness of guns for self-defense as well as the unique situations of individual households.

Minors do not yet possess their full rights. Thus, the law can rightly prevent the transfer of guns to minors, absent parental consent. However, let us remember Jefferson's advice that young people should keep a gun and practice shooting regularly. It is a parent's right to allow their youngster to have a firearm. And adults should not be held to double-standards. An 18 year old can fight in war, marry, vote, and be held criminally accountable as an adult. 18 year old adults are not somehow immune from criminal victimization; thus, they must not be denied their Constitutional liberties of self-defense.

America is slowly becoming a police state. Every innocent citizen who wants to purchase a gun is subject to scrutiny by federal police agents. Every gun owner risks a midnight raid by militarized police forces. Today, that risk is relatively small. If more arbitrary and Unconstitutional laws pass, the risk will increase proportionally.

The first statesmen of the United States pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom. Today's politicians would sacrifice freedom in order to avoid an unglamorous photo shoot or newspaper article. Maybe some of them will find the courage to stand on principle and help America return to a system of reasonable gun laws, starting with the ultimate reasonable gun law: "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

The Colorado Freedom