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Gun Owners Set Up to Take the Fall for a Crime They Did Not Commit

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Gun Owners Set Up to Take the Fall for a Crime They Did Not Commit

“Reasonable restrictions.” “Gun violence prevention.” “Gun safety measures.” “Keeping firearms out of the wrong hands.” “#gunsense.”

However gun control advocates couch their agenda these days, the end result is always the same: innocent, upstanding people are scapegoated for the evil acts of others who broke the law. Just ask the young adults in Illinois now facing the possible confiscation of their lawfully-obtained firearms.

They did everything the law required of them. They kept their noses clean and passed background checks. They dutifully obtained their mandatory Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) Card. They patiently endured Illinois’ mandatory waiting period. They made sure the firearm of their choice was lawful in their local jurisdiction.

None of that matters under legislation that has already passed the House of the Illinois General Assembly and will likely be law by the time you are reading this. That bill, H.R. 1465, categorically bans adults aged 18 to 20 from possessing certain firearms otherwise available under state law. These include essentially all semiautomatic, magazine-fed, centerfire rifles and various other semiautomatic handguns and shotguns that have specified features.

The proponents of the bill refer to some of the newly-regulated firearms with the epithet “assault weapon,” but that term is as malleable and unfixed in the gun control universe as other trendy “social justice” catchphrases used to express moral disapproval. Just as a restaurant can be accused of “cultural appropriation” for serving an inauthentic variant of regional cuisine, for example, a telescoping stock could turn an otherwise lawful rifle or shotgun into contraband under H.R. 1465, no matter what the firearm’s overall length or weight.

What is evil about being able to adjust the length of pull on a long gun to a person’s particular physical dimensions or outerwear as to merit criminal punishment?

Absolutely nothing.

And what is dangerous about FOID-carrying young adults in the Land of Lincoln that they must relinquish their guns or risk having them confiscated by force?

Absolutely nothing.  

The legislature hasn’t claimed the targeted firearms or population are suddenly at the center of an emergent violent crime wave in Illinois. To the contrary, even as the bill was making its way through the general assembly, newspapers were highlighting the welcome news that firearm-related violence in Chicago had fallen for the 12th straight month in a row, with shootings down nearly 30% compared to the first two months of 2017.

Instead, what antigun forces in Illinois were reacting to – or, more accurately, exploiting – was a single crime committed in Parkland, Fla., by a 19-year-old who legally purchased his murder weapon. As horrific as that crime was, it is hardly representative of the sorts of daily firearm-related crimes that criminals in Chicago and other places continue to commit on a much more regular and predictable basis, defying every law that would purport to stand in their way.

Indeed, mass shootings are so rare that James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University who studies those types of crimes, noted in a USA Today opinion column that students are 10 times more likely to be accidentally killed while walking or biking to school.

Like Chicago’s typical gang-related homicide, these types of accidents rarely make the national news. But then, they’re not being used to push a long-standing national agenda that plays on fear, ignorance, and misinformation, rather than an honest and accurate assessment of the facts and a willingness to confront complex and multifaceted problems.

In the case of the Parkland murderer, one red flag after another was raised and ignored. This was not a case where the confessed killer escaped prior notice. He had extensive disciplinary problems in school. Police had responded to calls at his residence dozens of times. He even called the police to report himself, confessing to fighting and struggling with the recent death of his mother. He was the subject of at least two FBI tips warning of the potential for violence. And he had been examined (but ultimately not committed) by local mental health authorities.

Perhaps most shocking of all were reports that once the shooting at the school actually started, at least one and perhaps more armed, uniformed deputies were present but did not immediately intervene, instead taking up a defensive posture outside the school as shots within could be heard. No doubt a clear and accurate picture of just what happened on the scene is months away, if it ever emerges at all.

But despite all these missed opportunities for intervention to stop an obviously deranged individual, the national debate has focused neither on the confessed killer nor on the fact that every official mechanism that might have might have made a difference somehow failed to follow-up on his case.

Instead, the debate has been centered squarely on the NRA, its five million members, and semiautomatic rifles that are statistically under-represented in firearm-related homicide. The takeaway promoted by the media, social justice activists, and opportunistic corporate virtue-signalers is that YOU, the law-abiding American gun owner, are to blame. And YOU must accept curbs on your rights, if not necessarily to stop further crime, then at least as an act of civic penance for someone else’s misdeeds.

The national response, in other words, could hardly be more misdirected.

Well-meaning gun owners who want nothing more than for all young Americans to grow up free from fear of violent crime, some with kids of their own, were portrayed as the enemies of their countrymen by a media seized with the conviction that the tide had finally turned against the Second Amendment. Their voices and their perspectives were shouted down or vilified, simply because they did not embrace the agenda.

In addition, young adults who happened to own guns were being categorically portrayed as menaces to public safety. And it didn’t matter who they were or how their own circumstances might deviate from caricatures of clueless teenagers. 20 year-olds with kids, jobs, and residences of their own – who as much as anyone need to protect themselves and their families – were stereotyped as impulsive, irresponsible, and ignorant. Americans at the prime age for military service, the demographic the nation literally depends on for national defense, were dismissed en masse as incapable of safely and responsibly exercising their constitutional right to arms.

It remains to be seen how Illinois’ FOID card system might be used to enforce any new age restrictions in the state. That system is effectively a registry of gun owners – including their birth dates – but it doesn’t record the specific firearms they own. Still, it could precipitate visits from law enforcement personnel seeking “voluntary” cooperation with the new restrictions, much like the “knock and talk” system California uses to “request” cooperation from persons who lawfully obtained firearms and later became prohibited. The further irony, of course, is that exploiting the FOID system would promote enforcement action against those who originally obtained the newly banned guns lawfully but not against those who didn’t.

Which brings me back to my original point. Blameworthiness and moral agency are irrelevant to the modern gun control movement. If you have guns, they want them, whoever you are. And if they are willing to claim that young adults as a class are not safe enough to have them, who’s to say they won’t eventually paint the elderly and others with the same broad brush?

That’s why no gun owner, young or old, no matter what type of gun he or she owns, can afford to be complacent about their rights. We can’t know when the next high-profile firearm-related offense will make national news. But we certainly know who will be blamed for it.

Chris W. Cox

BY Chris W. Cox

Former NRA-ILA Executive Director

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Chris W. Cox served as the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of NRA, until 2019. As NRA’s principal political strategist, Cox oversaw eight NRA-ILA divisions: Federal Affairs; State & Local Affairs; Public Affairs; Grassroots; Finance; Research & Information; Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources; and Office of Legislative Counsel. Cox also serves as chairman of NRA’s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), the Association’s political action committee; president of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF), which focuses on non-partisan voter registration and citizen education; and chairman of NRA Country, an effort to bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.

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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.