May 16, 2006
"A good first step"? Towards what?
In a huge editorial yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer claims that it wants to stop illegal gun purchases:
Criminals often get their handguns through an underground market that begins with a transaction called a straw purchase. It works this way:OK, STOP RIGHT THERE!
I think the Inquirer knows better than that. Straw purchases are already illegal. It is a major federal felony to buy a gun for someone else.
There is, simply, no way for a straw buyer to buy a gun legally for someone else. Why can't the Inquirer admit that? Instead, a difficult law enforcement issue is characterized as a "legal" loophole which needs to be closed:
The trafficker then sells those guns on the street, usually to people who also couldn't buy them legally.Again, gun law after gun law after gun law is broken in the above scenario. There is no legal loophole.
Clamping down on straw purchases would stem the flow of illegal guns into the city.The issue is not whether 12 handguns are enough -- any more than the issue is whether 12 cars or 12 computers are enough. The Inquirer's claim that illegal firearms transfers will be stopped by limiting the number of legal transfers boils down to the logic that "gun crimes" are decreased by decreasing the number of guns. It makes about as much sense as trying to decrease auto theft or criminal transfers of automobiles by decreasing the number of cars an individual could purchase. Or decreasing computer crime by limiting the number of computers. Or decreasing diversion of legal drugs to the illegal market not by going after the illegal diverters but by limiting the number of pills a sick person can possess.
It is predicated on the idea that a thing -- not human conduct -- is intrinsically evil, as well as on the idea that criminals will be stopped by laws which will only be obeyed by law-abiding people.
Illegal transfers already being illegal, a restriction on the number of firearms that can be legally purchased will have no -- repeat no -- effect on illegal transfers. If you doubt me, put yourself in the position of an illegal gun dealer. As you most likely have a criminal record, you're not going to be eligible to buy even one gun a month, so the law won't affect you directly. (Straw purchases by others acting on the illegal dealer's behest are only one among many ways to obtain guns.) A change in the law would mean simply that the criminal dealer would have to:
All three of the above methods are, of course, already illegal. In fact, there is no way to legally buy guns in order to resell them!
What the Inquirer does not point out is that it is already a crime to buy even one gun a month if the intention is to resell it! All they're trying to do with this latest change in the law is make them illegal to buy regardless of intent. That's because it requires too much investigatory police work to discern whether there is an intent to illegally resell the weapon, so the idea is that, hey, we'll just treat all gun buyers as an inherently suspect class.
What is really too much for me is the Inquirer's lecture in "logic":
. . .folks who are concerned about crime and are open-minded about solutions - and that's most people in Pennsylvania - never get to hear the logic of a handgun-limit law. It's drowned out by shouting from the gun lobby, which sees compromise as defeat.If the goal is to reduce the number of guns in the hands of the law abiding, why not just say so? Just please don't call illegal conduct legal, and then tell me that making legal conduct illegal is logical. It is not.
Long term, I suppose it could be argued that limiting the number of guns which an individual could purchase might reduce the number of guns available for criminals to steal. But would it even do that? Let's assume you're a "gun nut" who enjoys collecting. The one-gun-a-month limit will force you to wait a month between each gun. That means that if you collect guns avidly, after five years your collection will have grown to 60 guns. Criminals who steal guns will not be limited by the one-gun rule. They won't come back to break into your house next month; they'll simply steal them all. Which means that the one-gun-a-month rule will have to be followed by a new "total number of guns" rule, and so on.
Notice the Inquirer's "Shouldn't 12 handguns be enough for a suburban or rural family to fend off a potential attacker?" did not read, "Shouldn't 12 handguns per year be enough for a suburban or rural family to fend off a potential attacker?"
And while I'm at it, what's this bit about "a suburban or rural family"? Are there no urban families who might need to fend off an attacker? (Seems to me the family of Rob Pierson could have used one. Or twelve.)
The communitarian thinking that goes into this presupposes that it is someone else's business how many guns a law-abiding person owns. That we need to "keep track" as if the law abiding person is suspect.
Jeff Soyer reviews the Inquirer editorial, and suggests going after the criminals instead:
How about clamping down on criminals instead? You could start by going after the street gangs since that's the source of most gun crime in Philadelphia.I agree with Jeff, of course.
The problem is that the goal is to disarm the law abiding.
And if we assume the Inquirer shares that goal, then limiting the number of guns is a good first step.
posted by Eric on 05.16.06 at 09:49 AM
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