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The Battle In the States

Saturday, June 1, 2013

By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director

Thomas Jefferson—who needs no introduction among friends, but whose love of liberty might make him a stranger in some circles—is credited with saying “you get the government you deserve.” He was right on one level; in a democratic system, voters get the governments they elect.

However, in our country today—especially in several states—Americans have become so divided on gun control issues that where gun laws are concerned, the only people who get the government they deserve are those who voted it into power. I should also include those who stay home on Election Day, content to let others decide their fate. Too often, it’s the failure of these armchair patriots to perform their civic duty at the polls that allows enemies of liberty to claim victory once the votes have been counted.

However it has come about, gun owners in New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland don’t deserve having their rights violated at the hands of the majority-elected governments in their states, as has happened this year. It’s true that gun owners are in the minority in some states—but the Bill of Rights exists to protect the rights of the minority against infringement by the majority. But it remains to be seen whether the Bill of Rights will ultimately help gun owners prevail against the bias, anger and ignorance of anti-gun activists and politicians in those states.

Bias, anger and ignorance have surely driven the push for gun control this year. Anti-gunners haven’t even attempted to offer any evidence as to how prohibiting private sales, gifts or trades of firearms could prevent another crime like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, in which the killer stole a lawfully purchased gun after killing his own mother. Nor have they explained why a magazine should be limited to 15 rounds in Colorado, 10 rounds in Connecticut and Maryland, and seven rounds in New York. Or why one kind of grip makes a rifle an “assault weapon” in New York, but another kind of grip makes the same rifle an “assault weapon” in Connecticut. Or why some semi-automatic rifles should be considered “assault weapons” if less than 30 inches long in Connecticut, while in Maryland they are not called “assault weapons” until they’re less than 29 inches long.

What, other than bias and ignorance, can explain what U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said in April, when she tried to justify the bill that she and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., have introduced to ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds nationwide? 

DeGette is not a newcomer to the gun control debate. She’s been introducing bills in Congress to ban magazines since 1997; by now she might have learned at least something about them. But during a public forum on gun control in Denver, DeGette said “What is the efficacy of banning these magazine clips? I will tell you. These are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now, they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high-capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.” 

Then, when someone in the audience asked how he would defend himself against multiple attackers, if limited to a 10-round magazine, DeGette said he shouldn’t worry about that, because “you’d probably be dead anyway.”

I could fill this entire magazine with equally senseless and disrespectful comments made by other gun control supporters over the last six months. I’m sure that you could, too. But let me instead provide an overview of what has happened in the states since their legislative sessions began in January.

Connecticut’s anti-gun legislators and governor used undemocratic tactics to ram through a truly sweeping bill. The lawmakers—ergonomics experts one and all—have adopted an “assault weapon” ban that applies to semi-automatic, center-fire rifles that have a grip “which would allow an individual to grip the weapon, resulting in any finger on the trigger hand in addition to the trigger finger being directly below any portion of the action of the weapon when firing.” If you have to read that two or three times to figure out what it means, don’t worry; so did I.

They’ve also banned specific center-fire, semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns identified by name; “duplicates thereof”; semi-automatics that have one or more “assault weapon” attachments; any semi-automatic, center-fire rifle with a fixed magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds, or that has an overall length of less than 30 inches; any semi-automatic shotgun that can use a detachable magazine; and any “part or combination of parts designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault weapon”—potentially including items such as flash suppressors or adjustable stocks, even if you don’t have a gun on which to put them.

They’ve also banned any “large capacity” magazine, defined as one that holds more than 10 rounds, except for tubular magazines for .22 caliber rifles or lever-action rifles. People who own “large” magazines will be required to “declare” (register) them before Jan. 1, and loading the registered magazines with more than 10 rounds will be prohibited, except while at a range for target practice or “on the premises of a licensed shooting club.” Loading them fully for the purpose for which they are designed—self-defense—will be prohibited, except in 
one’s residence.

As of April 2014, retail purchases of rifles or shotguns in Connecticut will require a long gun eligibility certificate, a Connecticut carry permit, a handgun retail sales permit or a handgun eligibility certificate. As of this October, retail purchases of ammunition will require one of the same certificates or permits, or a special ammunition eligibility certificate and a government-issued id. Private sales of long guns without background checks have been prohibited, and people who obtain long guns will be required to register them within 24 hours. 

Maryland, which used to require a waiting period on “assault weapons” and used to ban the sale and acquisition of magazines that hold more than 20 rounds, has banned sales of “assault weapons” and of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. It now requires state residents who do not already own a “regulated firearm”—a handgun or an “assault weapon”— to possess a “handgun qualification license” to acquire a handgun. To obtain the 10-year license requires payment of a $50 fee, plus any fee associated with a new, mandatory four-hour training course.

In Colorado, magazines that hold more than 15 rounds are now banned, private firearm sales have been prohibited, and a yet-to-be-determined fee for background checks will be assessed against all gun sellers. A Democratic strategist in the state said of the new law, “It absolutely lays a path for the rest of the country. If you can do it here, you can do it anyplace.” Needless to say, the NRA will be doing everything we can to prove her wrong. 

Not all news from the states has been bad, however. As we go to press, expansions of Right-to-Carry laws and protections of carry permit holders’ rights have been signed into law in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. Similar measures, as well as expansions of hunting rights, emergency powers limitations, and improvements in local gun control ordinance preemptions are awaiting the signature of governors in seven states, and severe gun controls have been non-starters in 45 states. Dozens of other pro-gun bills are still pending across the country.

Economist John Lott and others have made a strong argument that Right-to-Carry laws reduce crime, and at the very least don’t cause crime to increase. But in the few states where anti-gun politicians currently hold sway, gun laws that have a track record of success have been rejected in favor of those that lash out at Americans who peacefully exercise a right those politicians neither understand nor respect. 

As columnist Kathleen Parker put it, gun control supporters know that “forcing law-abiding gun owners to submit to new regulations will not prevent another Newtown or Aurora or Columbine,” but the anti-gunners support the regulations nonetheless because “whatever we do, we will do because it makes us feel better.”

And that, friends, takes us back to Mr. Jefferson.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.