Lies, Loopholes, and Safe Guns
by Ari Armstrong, April 19, 2001
I shouldn't be surprised. Not anymore.
It is simply staggering, the irresponsibility displayed by some popular journalists in using the First Amendment to assail the Second.
On April 18, the Rocky Mountain News published a Scripps Howard article by Mary Deibel (page 29A). Just the headline lets readers know we're in for flagrantly biased, dare I say yellow, bit of journalism: "Group aims to plug firearms loophole."
But besides the issue of accuracy (freedom is not a loophole!), aren't the anti-gun activists masquerading as journalists getting a little tired of labeling every remaining freedom under the Bill of Rights a "loophole?" I mean, come on, think of a new line already.
Deibel's editorial (er, article) begins, "Two years after the Columbine High School shootings, Washington's paralysis on gun control has prompted a group to push for regulating firearms as a matter of consumer protection."
Well, nothing biased in that lead in, eh? It's not as if the term "paralysis" carried with it a negative connotation or anything. Let's try again, Mary. A re-spun lead paragraph might read something like, "Two years after 20,000 gun control laws failed to prevent two killers from shooting up Columbine High School, a new group plans to lobby Congress to back down from its reluctance to further restrict the right of self-defense among law-abiding gun owners."
But the anti-gun spin aside, what in the hell do consumer regulations have to do with Columbine? Does Deibel really expect us to believe that if only guns had come under stricter safety regulations by the national government, that might have prevented the murders?
I can imagine the conversation. Killer One says, "You know, I really wanted to shoot up our school today, but it says here on the gun stock, 'Warning: shooting people may result in injury or death.' So let's just stay home today and watch Captain Kangaroo." Killer Two: "Gee, that's a swell idea!"
Deibel's article is Alice-in-Wonderland ridiculous. It's the kind of bizarre and incomprehensible nonsense one might expect to find in a Kafka novel. It's absurdity wrapped in the surreal.
Is it worth mentioning that the article contains not one single flake of reasoning or evidence that suggests new consumer regulations would make guns safer?
Deibel's article does get one detail correct, even though she fails to pick up on the implications of the observation: "The plan would vest oversight with the Treasury, which oversees gun manufacturers, dealer licensing and importation through its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."
Yes, the BATF is run through Treasury. Why? Because the 1934 National Firearms Act was passed as a tax measure -- those with automatics or short shot-guns had to pay a tax. Why? Because the only possible rationale for the national government getting involved with firearms at all was to "regulate Commerce... among the several states" (Article I, Section 8). Never mind the fact that the Commerce Clause (as it is known) was included simply to prevent states from imposing restrictive tariffs on interstate trade.
Doesn't Deibel find it even the least bit interesting that Treasury would be responsible for regulating safety?
But the BATF might have learned a few things about safety by experience. "Note to self: CS gas is flammable. Holy S*** is it flammable!" "Note to self: When busting down a door in the middle of the night, watch out for pesky splinters." "Note to self: When shoving the face of a young girl dressed in her underwear into the floor, be careful that your assault rifle doesn't wear a blister on your pinkie finger."
The BATF responsible for consumer safety regulations. The old "fox guarding the hen house" analogy is several orders of magnitude too mild. This is more like letting the Nazis install your shower heads. There may never have been an organized group in America besides the BATF that has more blatantly disregarded public safety.
Deibel quotes Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, "the proposal's Senate sponsor," as saying, "There is not a single federal safety standard or child-proofing requirement" pertaining to firearms. Deibel must have left out Torricelli's explanation for how new "federal safety standards" might solve some problem.
In 1998, there were 92,200 deaths by unintentional injury of all types, according to the National Safety Council. 41,200 of those involved motor vehicles; 16,600 involved falls; 8,400 involved poisoning; 4,100 involved drowning; 3,700 involved burns; 3,200 involved choking; and 900 involved firearms, less than one percent of the total. The figure for firearms is extraordinarily low, given that roughly 80 million Americans own around 250 million guns.
In addition, unintentional deaths by firearms have fallen steadily all century, from 3.4 per 100,000 population in 1934 to 0.3 per 100,000 population in 1998.
That increase in safety is again extraordinary, given that "'Guns are the last consumer product not subject to health and safety rules in a nation where even teddy bears come under federal regulation,' said Susan Peschin of the Consumer Federation of America," the group pushing for the new firearms regulations.
Maybe, just maybe, guns have gotten safer precisely because they have not been as subjected to federal "safety" regulations as other items. Surely we don't want the BATF to save the children the same way Congress "saved" them by snapping dozens of their necks with mandated air bags.
In terms of "child-proofing" mandates, a study by W. Kip Viscusi found that such requirements actually increased poisoning rates. Dave Kopel summarizes, "Federal laws requiring 'childproof' safety caps for analgesics such as Tylenol have apparently led to an increase in child poisonings. Lulled by the presence of the federally-required safety device on medicine bottles, many adults have been leaving dangerous medicines within easy reach of children" (http://www.i2i.org/SuptDocs/Crime/LawReviews/TreatingGunsLikeCars.htm).
Popular humor holds that the best way to open a child-proof container is to hand it to a child. Certainly older children are not deterred by such devices. Because almost all unintentional firearms deaths among children are among teenagers, child-proofing would have little if any effect.
Or perhaps by enforcing new firearms regulations the BATF could eventually save as many lives as the FDA has saved. Writes Doug Bandow, "People suffer and die as a consequence of the FDA's dithering. Explains Robert Goldberg of Brandeis University: 'By a conservative estimate, FDA delays in allowing U.S. marketing of drugs used safely and effectively elsewhere around the world have cost the lives of at least 200,000 Americans over the past 30 years'" (http://www.cato.org//dailys/1-29-97.html).
Proposed "safety" regulations would demonstrably make guns unsafe. For example, a device that's supposed to show whether a round is chambered (in semiautos) can only encourage users to violate a fundamental rule of gun safety: ALWAYS physically check to make sure a gun is unloaded. Numerous proposals would make a gun less accessible for use in self-defense, which would cost lives rather than save them.
The brains behind the disarmament movement know exactly what they're doing. Letting the BATF regulate the manufacture of firearms has nothing to do with making a safer gun. It has everything to do with increasing the cost of guns and decreasing their effectiveness. It is one more step toward the explicit goal of banning guns.
As noted, a recent trend in popular discussion of both firearms and campaign finance is to describe remaining freedoms as "loopholes" in the law. For instance, Deibel writes that Peschin's
group is now pushing to close a loophole Congress created in 1972 that exempts guns and ammunition from laws that set federal health and safety standards for everything from toys to pesticides. The loophole was created at the behest of the National Rifle Association.
In its legal sense, the term "loophole" is inherently biased as it carries a negative connotation. Deibel writes as if it were a given that the law for firearms should be exactly the same as laws for other items. But this is an illogical leap. Two other possibilities are on their faces just as plausible. First, perhaps treating different items differently under the law is ideal. Second, perhaps a better way to make the law consistent would be to repeal all the old laws. (This second option certainly fits in better with the concept of limited government outlined in the Constitution.) For Deibel to blithely assume firearms should be subjected to additional regulations, and to advocate that position in an alleged news story, is simply indefensible.
But Deibel doesn't even try to escape her biases. She also writes:
Outspoken gun control advocates led by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., plan to introduce legislation when Congress comes back from Easter recess to close the "gun show loophole" that exempts show purchasers from mandatory background checks required by federal law. The loophole let a friend buy the guns that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold used to kill 12 Columbine classmates and a teacher and wound 26 others before the two committed suicide April 20, 2999.
The fact that Deibel's comment is an outright lie seems not to have deterred her from making it. First, Robyn Anderson would have passed any background check. Second, the killers obtained a gun from another source. Third, the law does not "exempt" show purchasers, it simply applies only to federally licensed dealers without touching upon the issue of private sales.
What's really appalling is that the Rocky Mountain News would publish a biased, deceitful, one-sided article and call it "news."