By Dave Kopel, Independence Institute
National Review Online. 5/05/00 10:10 a.m. More by Kopel on the gun issue in the 2000 election.
What's in the future for the anti-gun agenda, should Al Gore be elected President? Just drop by the website for Handgun Control, Inc., to find out.
There's only a short interval from the keyboards at HCI to the lips of the President and Vice President. On the site, you'll find details about comes next — but not what comes after that. Nor will you find any details on what HCI Chair Sarah Brady says is her long-term objective: a "needs-based licensing" system, in which gun ownership is allowed only when the police determine that the would-be owner "needs" the gun.
How does one get from the current Clinton/Gore/HCI program to the needs-based licensing system? In other words, what would a Gore administration push for, if it achieved the current items on the anti-gun agenda?
Perhaps the best guide is the 1994 report of the White House Working Group, a secret memo which was uncovered by U.S. News and World Report. Here's the long-term strategy:
First, the attack on the non-existent "gun show loophole" is only a warm-up. The ultimate objective is to abolish all firearms privacy. Every firearms transfer — including a Christmas gift from one's cousin — would have to be routed through a federally-licensed dealer, and recorded by the federal government.
A government license would also be needed to purchase ammunition.
All currently owned firearms would have to be registered with the federal government, and non-registration would be a federal crime. During the Democratic primaries, Bill Bradley called for national gun registration, while Gore rejected Bradley's plan as politically unrealistic. Gore was correct; for registration to be politically possible, it needs to be built on an existing system of licensing. Salami tactics are the essence of successful gun control.
The Clinton/Gore proposal for a national ID card for handgun purchasers is a sensible "moderate" and "common-sense" step toward the goal of total licensing and registration for all guns. Politically speaking, it is best if the initial stages of gun licensing can be implemented liberally (as rifle licensing was in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s) so that most people can get the license. Once licensing is in place, the bureaucracy can take care of gradually tightening the licensing process (without ever needing to ask the legislature to change the law), so that hardly anyone qualifies for a license (as rifle licensing currently is enforced in Britain).
While the White House licensing and registration system would apply to all guns, especially strict rules would be imposed on owners of handguns and for self-loading long guns (such as the Marlin Camp Carbine or the Ruger .22 rifles). Appropriating a term of art from Canadian gun law, the White House would designate all handguns and all self-loading long guns as "restricted weapons." Owners of "restricted weapons" could possess them only at home, at work, or at a target range.
In other words, it would be a federal crime to go bird hunting with a Remington 1100 shotgun. Handgun hunting, which is legal in every state in the Union, would vanish.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore strenuously insist that none of the laws which they have signed, and none of the regulations they have created, have interfered with hunting. Although Clinton and Gore are not correct in their claim, their "restricted weapons" agenda would remove their pro-hunting mask, and take away the primary sporting arms of millions of American hunters.
It would also be a federal crime to carry a handgun in public for protection — even for people with state licenses authorizing them to carry.
The White House memo also recommends consideration of a federal law to outlaw "the carrying of firearms in...work sites." The White House proposal would override current laws of many states, which allow a person who runs a dry cleaning shop that stays open late to choose to carry a concealed gun for protection. Or an accountant who stays at work late during March and April, can choose whether to keep a handgun in her desk, and carry it with her when she walks to the parking lot late at night.
The White House Working Group praises the 1976 Bartley-Fox law in Massachusetts. This law imposes a mandatory one year term in prison for carrying a gun without a permit. In one notorious case, the law was applied to a man who started carrying a gun after a co-worker assaulted him, and repeatedly threatened to kill him. The co-worker did attack later, and the victim successfully defended himself. The crime victim was then sentenced to a mandatory one year in prison for carrying a gun without a permit. This is the kind of law that the Clinton/Gore administration wants to apply nationwide.
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