Fear, Loathing, Clinging, and Buying at an Awesome Clip

The phrase is an infamous part of the history of the 2008 election.  Those small-town folks that “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them…”  Its one of the reasons that some fear the policies of the Obama administration.  That fear has culminated in another form of economy stimulation; gun sales.

Before the election was complete, national papers were reporting on one aspect of the bubbling fear of an Obama presidency coupled with a Democrat-controlled Congress.  According to a recent post at the Volokh Conspiracy, that pot has bubbled over.  Comparison of monthly increases in background checks relative to the previous year indicate a staggering 42% response to the November election of President Obama.  Even if the numbers don’t persuade you, the zeitgeist of gun-enthusiasts is a fear of returning to the Clinton-Era ban on “assault-style” weapons or ammunition taxes.

While gun sales go on at an impressive clip and some advocate investing in the stocks of gun-manfucturers, the rationality of the response is called into question.  Is this even a response to the Obama presidency, or to the economy in general?  A second Volokh post suggests suspicion that the rise is related to the economy (and interestingly, suspicion of an impending Obama presidency, though the data from the election month was noticibly lacking).  President Obama professed his belief in the Second Amendment, and voices his support of “common-sense gun safety laws.”  But with Attorney General Eric Holder’s February announcement that the President seeks “to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons,” perhaps that fear is well founded.

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Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 9:11 am Comments Off on Fear, Loathing, Clinging, and Buying at an Awesome Clip

Brian Siebel Discusses Implications of D.C. v. Heller

On October 7, Brian Siebel, a 12-year veteran attorney at the Brady Center, spoke to the ACS about the implications of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller.  In Heller, the Court ruled 5-4 that handguns may be legally kept inside the home for purposes of self-defense, striking down what it found to be an overbroad D.C. statute that prohibited handgun ownership regardless of purpose.  By interpreting the Second Amendment in this fashion, the Court established a clear, constitutional right to handgun ownership; the ruling indicates that in D.C., it still will be illegal to carry handguns outside the home, and all pistols must be registered with police.

With that framework in mind, Mr. Siebel discussed what the Heller decision will mean to gun ownership, gun regulation, and concealed carry laws.  Siebel characterized the ruling as a narrow one, drawing attention to the numerous uses of the phrase “handguns for self defense in the home.”  According to the text of the decision, all gun laws, other than those banning hand guns kept in the home for self defense, are “presumptively lawful.”  In other words, the Court makes no ruling on the validity of regulations pertaining to dangerous or unusual guns, guns at sensitive locations (e.g. schools, government buildings, etc.), or guns used for hunting.  In fact, said Siebel, the Court seems to assert that these regulations are entirely lawful, and that the thrust of their ruling goes to the necessity of defending oneself at home, rather than to the ownership of any gun for any purpose.

So what does this mean for the future of gun control legislation and litigation?  According to Siebel, the ruling effectively nullifies the gun lobby’s “slippery slope” argument – after Heller, any gun legislation that prohibits handgun ownership for law-abiding citizens must be deemed unconstitutional.  This, Siebel hopes, will direct Second Amendment dialogue to more practical matters, preventing gun violence, preventing felons and the mentally ill from circumventing background checks, and preventing illegal gun ownership through the establishment of universal background check standards.

“Prevention works,” he said: 1.6 million people have been denied a gun based on background checks under the Brady Law since 1993, and deaths from gun violence have plateaued.  This progress, however, is being thwarted by public reactions to the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech and on other college campuses around the country.  Rather than seeking to crack down on gun ownership in the aftermath of the shootings, 17 states – including Virginia – have introduced legislation to allow guns on campus; eight states have introduced guns in the workplace legislation.  A vast majority of the latter measures have failed, and all of the former have failed.

The reason for their failure, Siebel says, is a practical one.  The Virginia Tech shooter, for example, was adjudicated mentally defective long before he attempted to purchase the guns he used in his attack.  However, prior to the attack, only 10% of mentally ill gun buyers were successfully screened by the background check system because its reporting standards varied so greatly from state to state.  If the background check system operated as it should have, he would not have been able to obtain a gun.  In the wake of the tragedy, the Brady Center worked in conjunction with NRA to make sure that mental health adjudication records were made available to state agencies who conduct background checks, in order to prevent the recurrence of such an event. (more…)

Published in: on October 8, 2008 at 7:38 am Comments Off on Brian Siebel Discusses Implications of D.C. v. Heller

Guns n’ Taxes

After stumbling on a recent news story about concealed weapons in restaurants, I decided to do a little digging on Virginia’s gun control laws. On March 4, Governor Kaine vetoed a Virginia state bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol. Currently, it is only legal to carry a concealed weapon in an alcohol-free restaurant in Virginia. I did not know that it was legal to carry concealed guns into restaurants at all, and this got me wondering about Virginia’s other gun regulations.

If I wanted to, could I buy a gun and carry it into a restaurant today? To buy a rifle or a shotgun here, I would have to be at least 18 years old. To buy a handgun from a licensed firearms dealer, I have to be 21 years old. Check. I can buy a rifle, a shotgun, or a handgun. Since it would be pretty hard to conceal a rifle or shotgun before walking into my hypothetical restaurant, we’ll assume I’m buying a handgun. Because I’m in Virginia, I don’t have to register the gun. Virginia gun-owners only have to register machine guns. Interesting. How about this: what If I want more than one gun? Since I probably can’t conceal a rifle or shotgun, and I can’t get a machine gun without registering it, can I buy more than one handgun at a time? No, I have to wait 30 days between handgun purchases. What if I want to carry my new handgun other places? How about into church? I can carry my gun into a place of worship in Virginia, but only if I have a “good and sufficient reason.” This is only a sampling of some of Virginia’s gun regulations. As a non-gun owner, I found it enlightening to peruse the state’s concealed weapon code.

Many competent gun owners will tell you they feel safer with their concealed weapons. I even know a woman in another state who brings her gun to church regularly. However, the potential harm of carrying a concealed weapon into an establishment that serves alcohol seems to vastly outweigh the potential benefits. In 2005, there were 12,000 reported homicides by gun in the United states, and nearly 53,000 emergency room visits involving gun shot wounds. These numbers may seem small compared to the total U.S. population, but think about this: A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999 concluded that gunshot injuries in the United States in 1994 produced $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs. Guess who pays a lot of those costs? Taxpayers. We paid approximately half that $2.3 billion through Medicaid, Medicare, worker’s compensation, and other government programs. Not only does Governor Kaine’s veto of concealed weapon bill promote the safety of police officers and late night bar patrons, it might also save us all some money. April 15 is coming fast.

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Published in: on March 17, 2008 at 11:25 pm Comments Off on Guns n’ Taxes