Originally appeared in the March 2013 print issue. The online version has been slightly modified.
“We will have to change,” President Obama said recently, referring to Americans needing to do everything possible to ensure that murders like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., are never repeated elsewhere. President Obama, however, didn’t really seem to mean what he said. His children attend a school safeguarded by armed security, as every American child ought to be able to do. Yet, instead of looking for ways to protect children, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and their media minions have unleashed a program to destroy the Second Amendment.
At the core of the gun-banners’ program is national gun registration.
In truth, gun registration would have done absolutely nothing to stop the Sandy Hook murderer who killed his mother and stole her lawfully purchased firearms. Nor would it have stopped the killer who attacked Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, or the Virginia Tech murderer, both of whom bought their guns in stores.Registration. Confiscation. Extinction. Each step makes the next step much easier.
But gun registration is very good for one thing—confiscation. And even more immediately, gun registration is ideal to bolster the quickly growing public persecution of gun owners.
The state of New York shows exactly how it’s done. There, you may only possess a handgun if you have a license, and the license lists every single handgun you own. In Rockland County, the Journal News used public records to obtain the name and address of every handgun owner in the county. Those names and addresses were then published, in full, by the newspaper and placed on the newspaper’s website, where they are now available for everyone to see. The newspaper has been digging into gun registration lists in other counties as well, with plans to publish those records.
The same thing was done to all registered gun owners in New York City in early January. This time, the perpetrator was Gawker.com, one of the most high-traffic sites on the Internet that specializes in salacious gossip and vulgar malice. Gawker absolutely hates guns, gun owners and the NRA.
What does this mean for the people who dutifully complied with New York’s gun registration law? It means those who chose not to have their personal information listed in the phone book now have their residences exposed to a worldwide audience on the Internet. It now means that people who kept low profiles and their addresses private because they have been victims of stalkers are now easier targets for stalkers and other sociopaths.
In 1989, actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by a stalker who obtained her home address from California driver’s license records. Since then, many states have barred public access to driver’s license records. But gun registration records are not necessarily private.
One group pleased with the Rockland Journal News’ publication of gun registration data was the felons in nearby state prisons. They’ve told prison guards who live in Rockland County that now, thanks to the Journal News, the prisoners and their friends on the outside know exactly where the guards’ families live. If a prisoner decides he doesn’t like a particular guard, it is now a lot easier to find that guard’s family.
After the Journal News published gun owner registration information, another paper in the area, the Rockland County Times, asked several former convicts what they thought about the publication of registration information. The convicts all agreed that it would be an outstanding list for burglars to use.
We know that the vast majority of burglars in the United States (unlike in Great Britain or Ireland) try to avoid breaking into a home when someone is there because of the risk of being shot by the homeowner. So the longest part of a burglar’s working day is “casing the joint” to ensure nobody is home. Burglars in Rockland County now know which homes to avoid while the occupants are home. And once the occupants are gone, burglars know precisely where they can steal guns to sell on the black market.
Consequently, New York’s gun registration program is now being used to help criminals arm themselves.
It’s likely that the Rockland Journal News was not intentionally attempting to help criminals; the newspaper was just wanton and reckless about the very foreseeable pro-crime consequences of its actions. Rather, the Journal News, based on its printed justification for its actions, seems to have been motivated by social malice against gun owners. Kleck’s study found no crime-reductive benefits from gun registration.
Perhaps one of your neighbors hates gun owners. You know from casual conversation with him that he is angry and irrational about guns. To avoid upsetting him, you don’t tell him you are a gun owner. When your car leaves your garage on a Saturday morning, he doesn’t know that you are driving to the shooting range with a pistol in your trunk.
Or suppose that the guy who hates guns isn’t your neighbor; he’s your boss. Thanks to gun registration, he now knows that you are one of the people he hates. He may never confront you about the topic. He may never tell you why his written evaluations of you suddenly became so negative. Or why, when your department had to lay off somebody, he decided that somebody would be you.
Gun registration—what Obama, Biden and Bloomberg euphemistically call “a national database”—is also a perfect tool for the later confiscation of guns.
New York City has experience in this arena. In the mid-1960s, street crime was rising rapidly there as in most of the rest of the nation. The people who were perpetrating muggings in Central Park and robbing liquor stores in Queens were not the decent, law-abiding gun owners of New York City. Nevertheless, the New York City Council and anti-gun Mayor John Lindsay enacted long gun registration. The per-gun fee was just a few dollars. The politicians promised that gun registration could help solve crimes and, even if it didn’t, registration was harmless. After all, it was just registering guns, not confiscating them.
As registration did nothing to solve crime or stop criminal use of guns, crime continued to get worse in the city. So in 1991, with the city becoming increasingly unlivable, Mayor David Dinkins attempted to make the public think he was tough on crime, this time by pressuring the City Council to enact a ban on so-called “assault weapons” (such as the M1 carbine).
After that, the New York state police used registration lists to conduct home inspections of individuals whose registered gun had been outlawed. The police were ensuring that the registered guns had been moved out of the city or already surrendered to the government.
Gun confiscation is much easier if guns have first been registered. Pete Shields, past president of the Brady Campaign, explained in 1977, “The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition—except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs and licensed gun collectors—totally illegal.” (Richard Harris, A Reporter at Large: Handguns, The New Yorker, July 26, 1976, p. 58.) (At the time, Shields’ group was called the National Council to Control Handguns. It later changed its name to Handgun Control, Inc., then later changed it again to the Brady Campaign.)
Shields was right to identify registration as a first step toward confiscation. In Great Britain, registration lists were used for the confiscation of every handgun and every semi-automatic long gun.
On the Monday morning after the Sandy Hook murders, Howard Dean (former chairman of the Democratic National Committee) touted Australian-style gun confiscation as the model for the United States. In Australia, the national government waited for an atrocious mass murder to take place (32 people at a tourist site in Tasmania in 1996), and then unleashed its gun confiscation program. Following a plan developed by Rebecca Peters (who would later become the head of an international gun-ban lobby called the International Action Network on Small Arms, or IANSA), the confiscation bill was rushed through the legislature while emotions were high and skeptics could be shouted down.
Thus, every semi-automatic rifle, every semi-automatic shotgun and every pump-action rifle in the nation was confiscated. This was followed by confiscation of a huge variety of handguns in 2003.
Handguns in Australia had been registered since the 1930s, but most Australian states had only imposed long gun registration in the two decades preceding the confiscation. Civil liberties activists who raised concerns that registration lists could be used for confiscation were sneered at as paranoid extremists. In 1986, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, the NRA flagship bill that forbids the creation of a federal registry of guns or gun owners, became law.
Some of the people who had enacted gun registration in England and Australia may have had no intention of confiscating firearms, and may even have opposed confiscation. They may have rationalized that even if registration might not do much good, it couldn’t do any harm. They were absolutely wrong.
The catastrophic dangers of gun registration were demonstrated in Europe in the mid-20th century. There, gun registration laws had been enacted by democratic governments, such as the Weimar Republic in Germany, or the Third Republic in France.
The lists fell into the hands of the Nazis, first in Germany and then in all the countries they conquered. In Germany, guns were confiscated from the Jews and from anyone else who was not considered to be an utterly obedient servant of the regime. In the Nazi-occupied countries, guns were confiscated from everyone. If a family could not produce and immediately surrender a firearm that had once been registered to someone in the family, the entire family would be executed on the spot.
In the Soviet Union, and then in the Eastern European countries that the Soviets took over following World War II, gun registration lists were likewise used for confiscation. Hitler and Stalin, like every dictator who perpetrated genocide during the 20th century, assiduously confiscated guns before starting the genocide.
Registration. Confiscation. Extinction.
Each step makes the next step much easier.
The American people were well aware of this danger on the eve of World War II. So in 1941, when Congress passed the Property Requisition Act to allow the federal government to seize property that might be needed for the national defense, Congress specifically forbade the federal government from using this act to seize or register guns.
In 1986, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, the NRA flagship bill that forbids the creation of a federal registry of guns or gun owners, became law. Likewise, when Congress in 1993 set up the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, it required that once a check was completed, the record of an approved sale must be destroyed.
Like President Obama, President Lyndon Johnson used an atrocious crime (the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy by an anti-Israel extremist) to push national gun registration. Congress rejected the idea. Instead, the Gun Control Act of 1968 requires firearm manufacturers, wholesalers and retail dealers to keep written records of sales. However, those records are decentralized, and are not consolidated into a national database. This reduces (but does not eliminate) the risk that those records could be used for gun confiscation.
We know that gun registration does not work. The largest, most detailed comparative study of the effects of various firearm laws was conducted by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, published in his book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. That book was awarded the highest honor by the American Society of Criminology: the Michael J. Hindelang book award “for the greatest contribution to criminology in a three-year period.” The Kleck study examined many years of crime data from the 75 largest cities in the U.S. The study controlled for numerous variables such as poverty, race, arrest rates and so on. Kleck’s study found no crime-reductive benefits from gun registration.
New Zealand’s Arms Act of 1983, enacted at the request of the police, abolished the registration of rifles and shotguns. Rifle registration had been the law since 1920 and shotgun registration since 1968. The New Zealand police explained that long gun registration was expensive and impractical, and that the money could be better spent on other police work. The New Zealand police pointed out that database management is an enormously difficult and expensive task, that the long gun registration database was a mess, and that it yielded virtually nothing of value to the police. The registry literally cost over 100 times more than expected. The more than $2 billion that was wasted on the registry could have been spent on putting police on the streets.
Although some gun control advocates began pushing in 1997 to revive the registry, since, supposedly, computers would make it work this time. The plan was rejected after several years of extensive debate and analysis.
One reason that New Zealand continues to reject gun registration was the fiasco in Canada. There, long gun registration was enacted in 1995 and repealed in 2012. The registry literally cost over 100 times more than expected. The more than $2 billion that was wasted on the registry could have been spent on putting police on the streets (rather than shuffling paperwork). Or it could have upgraded forensics laboratories. Or it could have paid for social worker outreach to potentially violent people.
Allan Rock, the justice minister for the Liberal government that imposed registration, claimed that universal firearm registration would reduce criminal violence, total suicides and domestic abuse. He spoke forcefully against the use of firearms for self-defense, and said that the severe gun laws would distinguish Canada from the United States. Put another way, Rock was saying that his gun registry was the opposite of the Second Amendment.
The pretext for the Canadian registry was that a man had attacked a college and killed several people (because, of course, Canadians are not allowed to carry handguns for protection). The killer had actually used registered guns, but that fact was irrelevant to Canada’s gun prohibitionists.
Already, by executive fiat, Obama has unilaterally imposed federal registration on anyone who buys two or more semi-automatic rifles within a one-week period. Currently, Obama’s registration system applies in the four Southwest border states, but Bloomberg has been urging Obama to impose the registration nationwide. Never mind that a federal statute specifically forbids this registration—so far, the courts have let Obama get away with it.
When Obama and Bloomberg talk about “expanding background checks,” read the fine print of the actual bill. Every bill touted by Bloomberg and sponsored by anti-gun zealots such as Sen. Charles Schumer that carries the label of “background checks” has, in fact, been a bill that includes extensive gun registration.
When the NRA said “never again” about Newtown, it was serious. Real security measures would ensure that never again, as in Newtown, will a sociopath be able to murder schoolchildren at leisure before the police arrive.
The gun-ban lobbies, their political allies and their media enablers looked at Newtown and saw the opportunity for which they had been waiting. The murdered children and their teachers have been turned into the political pretext for gun registration.
Rather cynical, isn’t it?