Book review of
One Nation Under Guns: an Essay on an American Epidemic
David B. Kopel dispels Arnie Grossman’s anti gun rhetoric using facts and logic. It is sad that good people need to go to such extremes because others resort to the use of outright lies to further their agenda. Yet it must be done, and Mister Kopel is as fine a standard bearer as any that live on this earth.
By Arnie Grossman
Introduction by Gary Hart
Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado (2006).
pp. xxiv, 166
December 15, 2006
Why are so many gun control activists so angry? If you read this book you will understand.
On November 15, 2006, I debated author Arnie Grossman, in an event organized by the Denver Press Club. The debate was taped for C-Span’s Book Talk series, but has not yet been broadcast. The debate will also be available, in either video or audio-only, at the Independence Institute’s iVoices podcast and multimedia website.
Mr. Grossman is co-founder of SAFE (Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic), Colorado’s leading gun control group. SAFE is a state affiliate of the Brady Campaign, the leading United States gun control group. The Brady Campaign, in turn, is a member of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the world’s leading anti-gun lobby.
This essay examines various claims in Mr. Grossman’s book One Nation Under Guns, and also some claims that he made during our debate.
Mr. Grossman is a good writer, a fine speaker, and, in person, a nice man. Yet the tone of his book is one of outrage and fury.
One the one hand, he decries “name-calling” (26). (Parenthetical references are to particular pages in the book.) On the other hand, the book revels in name-calling. He approvingly quotes Sarah Brady that all Congresspeople who do not vote her way consist of the “the cowardly lions and the ones without a brain.” (56). Senator Gary Hart’s introduction claims that the policies of the gun rights movement are “the triumph of paranoia” and “simply insane” (Hart, xvi). In the debate, Mr. Grossman began by asserting that it was wrong that there even is a gun control debate, since there is only one correct view of the issue.
Indeed, if the world really were the way that Mr. Grossman, Mrs. Brady, and Senator Hart claim, it would be appropriate to be extremely angry. The problem is not that these gun control advocates are unintelligent. It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.
One Nation contains no footnotes, endnotes, or citations. Only rarely does the author explain the source of any of his claims. Quite clearly Mr. Grossman has gotten almost all of his information from the national anti-gun groups. Unfortunately, he is so eager to believe that worst that he has apparently not checked the veracity of any of those claims.
As a result, an enormous amount of One Nation is factually wrong. No respectable newspaper would continue to employ a report whose work included such an enormous high rate of factual error – especially of facts which are easily checked, such as the straightforward language of a federal statute.
Thus, One Nation is of very little use in studying the pros and cons of gun control policy. Readers interested in intellectually serious books which argue for increased gun control would be much better off with any of the following: Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence (Brookings Institution, 2003); Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Gun Violence: The Real Costs (Oxford University Press, 2000); William J. Vizzard, Shots in the Dark: The Policy, Politics, and Symbolism of Gun Control (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
I do not necessarily agree with all of the policy conclusions of these three books, and Vizzard’s book does have some careless errors. But on the whole, these books are based on accurate presentation of basic facts and law about firearms – in sharp contrast to One Nation.
One Nation is still worthwhile reading, however, because it provides an excellent insight into the mind of the anti-gun movement. You would not study a Ku Klux Klan book to learn an accurate history of race relations in the United States, but you could study a Klansman’s book in order to understand the mentality that leads to the most extreme form of racism. Similarly, One Nation can help readers better understand the dystopian world view which has convinced so many gun control advocates that anyone who disagrees with them must be insane, cowardly, or brainless.
Table of Contents
II. Bogus Statistics
III. The Brady Bill
A. The .50 caliber machine gun
In debate and in print, Mr. Grossman is obsessed with the terrifying .50 caliber machine gun; he claims “the weapon can be bought at most gun shows.” (41-42).
To the contrary, it is impossible to buy any machine gun at a gun show. Pursuant to the National Firearms Act of 1934, the purchase of a machine gun requires a months-long process involving a background check and letter of authorization from local law enforcement (known as Form 4), fingerprinting, registration of the owner and the gun with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), and a $200 tax.
There has never been an instance of a legally-owned, registered machine gun being used in a crime (with the lone exception of one Ohio police officer’s misuse of a personally-owned gun.)
In 1986, Congress outlawed the sale of new machine guns (manufactured after May 19, 1986) to anyone except law enforcement and the military. 18 US Code § 922(o).
Accordingly, it would be impossible to complete the transaction for any machine gun at a gun show.
Moreover, the only .50 caliber machine guns which an ordinary citizen can buy are World War II antiques. They are rare, and would likely cost a collector over $20,000. The claim that they are on sale “at most gun shows” is preposterous. It is like saying “most police officers are over seven feet tall.” Only a person bereft of any personal knowledge of gun shows (or police officers) would make such a silly claim.
B. Conversion kits
Another product which Mr. Grossman believes can be purchased at gun shows are conversion kits, by which a self-loading firearm can be converted to fully automatic. (44, 75).
To the contrary, federal law mandates that the purchase of such a conversion kit is subject to precisely the same restrictions as a machine gun itself. For purposes of federal law, the definition (and, hence, the applicable restrictions) of “machine gun” includes 26 USC § 5845(b) (“The term ‘machinegun’…shall also include…any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.”)
What can be purchased as a gun show is an entirely different type of a “conversion kit” – one that changes the caliber of an ordinary firearm. For example, if a person owns a .45 caliber Colt pistol, but wants to practice using the gun with .22 caliber ammunition (since .22 caliber ammunition is far less expensive), the person could buy and install a conversion kit to change the gun’s caliber from .45 to .22. Of course changing the caliber does not turn an ordinary gun into a machine gun.
C. Assembly of firearms from kits
Mr. Grossman believes that a person can evade existing federal laws (such as the mandatory background check of the buyer and registration of the gun):
“As long as a manufacturer offers every part that goes into a firearm except for the firing mechanism (which also carries the serial number of the gun), the sum of the parts sold as a kit do not constitute a firearm according to the loophole in the law.”
He further claims that a consumer can obtain, via mail-order parts, with no background check, everything to assemble a firearm, except that he must “add something called a ‘flat’ to a completed receiver, and he has a fully operable and legally obtained assault weapon.” (83-84).
Federal law plainly states just the opposite. The Gun Control Act defines the term “firearm” to include the following: “…(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive: (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon.“ 18 USC § 921(a)(3).
The receiver is “The basic unit of a firearm which houses the firing and breech mechanism and to which the barrel and stock are assembled. In revolvers, pistols, and break-open guns, it is called the Frame.”
Thus, any retailer who sells receivers or frames must conduct the same federally-required background checks as are required for the sale of completed guns.
Similarly, the retailer must fill out a federal gun registration form (Form 4473) which must be kept available for law enforcement inspection at any time. Retailers must retain each and every one of their 4473 forms for 20 years. Thus, Mr. Grossman’s assertion, throughout the book, that there should be gun registration is blind to the fact that there already is registration of every gun (and every frame and every receiver) sold by every firearms dealer in the United States. Such registration has been the law of the land since 1968.
In addition, a person who is not federally-licensed firearms retailer may not sell receivers or frames to a person in an another state, just as the interstate private sale of assembled firearms is illegal.
As for the “flat,” since Mr. Grossman refuses to supply citations or sources, it is impossible to know for sure what he is writing about. One possibility is that “a flat” means a flat piece of metal. A highly skilled machinist can build an entire receiver (or, indeed, an entire gun), from a flat piece of metal – if he is willing to invest many hours of time, and commit a major federal felony. But there is no such part as a “flat” which is used to complete a receiver.
Alternatively, Mr. Grossman might be indirectly, and without understanding, repeating something he thinks he heard about the self-loading AR-15 rifle. That rifle has an unusual design, in that it has a two-part receiver: the upper receiver and the lower receiver.
Some self-loading AR-15 upper receivers are called “flat tops” (because of their shape).
So Grossman creates the impression that the consumer need only add a simple piece of metal (“a flat”) to the receiver, the truth is that consumer cannot even buy the receiver without going through the same background check and registration that are required for purchase of a complete firearm.
By the way, the “firing mechanism” (the unit which includes the firing pin, the hammer, spring, and trigger) does not carry the serial number. The firing mechanism is attached to the receiver/frame, which by federal law must have the serial number.
“Licensed importers and licensed manufacturers shall identify, by means of a serial number engraved or cast on the receiver or frame of the weapon, in such manner as the Secretary shall by regulations prescribe, each firearm imported or manufactured by such importer or manufacturer.”
18 USC § 923(i).
D. Federal Firearms Licenses issued to dogs
According to Mr. Grossman, the standards for issuing Federal Firearms Licenses (the licenses required for all persons “engaged in the business” of selling firearms) are so lax that people can and do obtain licenses in the name of their dogs. Thus, “A terrorist with no identification, bent on killing perceived enemies on American soil, is obviously going to choose to do business with a ‘dealer’ whose license bears the name Rover.” (115-17).
In 1990, two reporters obtained FFLs in the name of their dogs. (Knut Royce, “New Rules Target Gun Dealers: Applicants must provide photo IDs, fingerprints,” Newsday Feb. 15, 1994 (“In 1990, the ATF licensed two dogs as firearms dealers. The dogs had acted as proxies for reporters…).)
In 1994, federal law was changed to require a photograph plus fingerprints, thus making future journalistic dog stunts impossible. 18 USC § 923(a) (“The application… shall include a photograph and fingerprints of the applicant.”)
Thus, Mr. Grossman’s fear and anger that the “loophole” will be exploited by terrorists in 2006 are based on the fact that he does not know that the law was changed a dozen years ago.
E. The federal government can only investigate crimes by a gun dealer once per year
Complaining about the Firearms Owner’s Protection Act of 1986, Mr. Grossman asserts that the Act prohibits the BATFE (the regulatory bureau for gun dealers) from investigating criminal activities by the dealer more than once a year. “Imagine any other public safety agency being told it can only investigate a business suspected of illegal and dangerous activity once a year.” (83)
Again, if Mr. Grossman had read the law – rather than relying on misleading propaganda from the gun prohibition lobby, he would not to be so worried.
The one-per-year limit applies only to random investigations involving no probable cause or suspicion. There is no limit on the number of audits which may be conducted pursuant to a genuine criminal investigation. 18 USC § 923(g)(1)(B) (allowing inspections “at any time with respect to records relating to a firearm involved in a criminal investigation that is traced to the licensee; or (iii) when such inspection or examination may be required for determining the disposition of one of more particular firearms in the course of a bona fide criminal investigation.”)(emphasis added)
F. Supposed immunity for criminal gun sales
Foremost among Mr. Grossman’s bête noires is the new law which he believes was named the “Gun Industry Immunity Bill” (38). The actual name is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act, which became law in 2005.
According to Mr. Grossman, the new law makes the firearms business “the only industry in America to enjoy blanket immunity from prosecution and accountability, even when its members knowingly furnish illegal gun traffickers with weapons destined for criminals and terrorists.” (93)
The bill was passed in response of a wave of abusive lawsuits filed against firearms manufacturers, retail dealers, wholesalers, and even trade associations, at the behest of the Brady Center, the litigation arm of the Brady Campaign. (Analysis of the lawsuits, and the need for preventive legislation, is available here.)
Mr. Grossman is apparently unaware that the new law’s restriction on lawsuits specifically allows lawsuits against any defendant which violated the law. Far from providing blanket immunity, the Act also allows for lawsuits for defective products, negligence per se, negligent entrustment, breach of contract, and warranty:
(5) QUALIFIED CIVIL LIABILITY ACTION-
(A) IN GENERAL- The term ‘qualified civil liability action’ means a civil action or proceeding or an administrative proceeding brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product, or a trade association, for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, or penalties, or other relief, resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party, but shall not include–
(i) an action brought against a transferor convicted under section 924(h) of title 18, United States Code, or a comparable or identical State felony law, by a party directly harmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted;
(ii) an action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se;
(iii) an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought, including–
(I) any case in which the manufacturer or seller knowingly made any false entry in, or failed to make appropriate entry in, any record required to be kept under Federal or State law with respect to the qualified product, or aided, abetted, or conspired with any person in making any false or fictitious oral or written statement with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of a qualified product; or
(II) any case in which the manufacturer or seller aided, abetted, or conspired with any other person to sell or otherwise dispose of a qualified product, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the actual buyer of the qualified product was prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition under subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code;
(iv) an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product;
(v) an action for death, physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner, except that where the discharge of the product was caused by a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense, then such act shall be considered the sole proximate cause of any resulting death, personal injuries or property damage; or
(vi) an action or proceeding commenced by the Attorney General to enforce the provisions of chapter 44 of title 18 or chapter 53 of title 26, United States Code.
(C) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION- Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to bar a governmental action to impose a penalty under section 924(p) of title 18, United States Code, for a failure to comply with section 922(z) of that title.
And despite Mr. Grossman’s intimation, the Act in no way changes the federal law that furnishing guns to criminals or terrorist is a major federal felony. See 18 USC § 922(d)(barring firearms transfer prohibited persons, including convicted criminals, by any transferor “knowing or having reason to know” of the transferee’s prohibited status); 18 USC § 924(a)(2) (ten year prison sentence for violating § 922(d)); 18 USC § 924(h) (any transfer when the transferor knows the gun will be used in a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime is a 10 year felony).
Mr. Grossman is not attorney, so he apparently takes at face value the claims of the Brady Center (the instigator of the abusive lawsuits which Congress curtailed), and he therefore insists that the firearms business was given an “unprecedented free pass from civil accountability in the courts” and is “the only industry in America which is granted such a shield.” (xxii, 38, 93).
A quick look at state and federal statutes shows that Mr. Grossman is far off base. First of all, the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act is far from a “free pass” or “blanket shield.” Moreover, the firearms business is one of many businesses which lawmakers have chosen to protect from abusive litigation. Other such industries and liability limitation laws include:
Rail carriers. 49 USC §§ 10103, 10730, 11707 (“The Carmack Amendments”).
Child Safety Protection Act, 15 USC § 1261, et seq.; 16 C.F.R. § 1500.19 (toy makers who comply with federal labeling rules cannot be sued for failure to warn about dangerous toys; similarly firearms businesses which comply with all federal, state, and local laws for selling and making guns cannot be sued for selling and making guns).
Federal Hazardous Substances Act. 15 USC § 1261, et seq.; (labeling law for manufacturers of hazardous substances; lawsuit immunity similar to Child Safety Protection Act).
Poison Prevention Packaging Act. 15 USC § 1471, et seq. (lawsuit immunity similar to Federal Hazardous Substances Act).
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. 29 USC § 1001, et seq.; 29 USC § 1144(a) (prohibits lawsuits against fiduciaries of employee benefit plans who comply with all federal laws).
Medical Devices Amendments of 1976. 21 USC § 360, et seq. (bans state lawsuits seeking to contest the legality of medical devices which have been approved by the FDA – just as the BATFE requires that all firearms must be manufactured in accordance with federal law).
Vaccine Act. 49 USC § 300aa-1, et seq. (restricts lawsuits against vaccines manufactured according to federal law).
General Aviation Revitalization Act. 49 USC § 40101, et seq. (bans lawsuits against manufacturers of planes which are more than 18 years old).
Biomaterials Access Assurance Act of 1998. 21 USC § 1601, et seq. (bans almost all lawsuits against raw suppliers of materials and bulk components for medical devices).
In addition, many states have enacted similar bills to prevent abusive lawsuits against a particular industry, or prevent trial lawyers from using the courts to usurp policy decisions which belong to the legislature. Among the businesses so protected are skiing and the food industry.
G. Why People Get So Angry
For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of Mr. Grossman, and other victims of the national gun prohibition lobby propaganda.
You would believe anyone, including a terrorist, can easily buy .50 caliber machine guns at gun shows, no questions asked, and that such guns are ubiquitous at gun shows.
You would believe that terrorists can, with no questions asked, buy machine gun conversion kits, and that they can buy mail-order “assault weapons” which they can assemble at home.
You would believe that a criminal can obtain a firearms dealer’s license in the name of his dog; that even when he is suspected of selling guns to terrorists, he can only be investigated once a year; and that when he does sell guns to terrorists, the victims cannot even sue him.
If you believed all these things, wouldn’t you be mad? Wouldn’t you think that anyone who refused to close these terrorist loopholes must be insane, brainless, or cowardly? I would.
Mr. Grossman is a smart man, but he foolishly believes everything that the gun prohibition lobbies tell him. Senator Hart is a brilliant man, but he foolishly believes everything that Mr. Grossman tells him.
One thing that Mr. Grossman, Senator Hart, and I agree on is that the war against Islamic terrorism is crucial to the survival of the free world. It would be understandable to be angry about the continued existence of loopholes which allow the provision of arms to terrorists.
Mr. Grossman, Senator Hart, and the readers of One Nation have all been duped by the gun prohibition lobbies. None of the “loopholes” exist -– as anyone who bothers to read the relevant federal statutes can be absolutely certain. As an author, Mr. Grossman owed his readers a higher duty of care.
At a time when national unity against terrorists is so important, what does it say about Washington lobbies which create false fears and needless domestic divisions by spreading blatantly false stories of terrorist loopholes? Can it be said that spreading false fears is a type of terrorism hoax? When Americans are distracted and divided by terrorism hoaxes, the greatest beneficiaries are the real terrorists.
The inside cover flap of One Nation promises “staggering statistics.” The statistics are indeed staggering, in the sense that they are stumbling and directionless. Put another way, they are false.
A. States with repressive gun laws are safer.
“How Safe Are You?” is the title of concluding section of One Nation. It purports to show that the more repressive the gun laws, the safer the state. In an October 2006 debate on KHOW radio (the Caplis & Silverman Show) with Mr. Grossman, I asked him for the source of his claim that gun control makes a state safer. He replied that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports was his source.
To the contrary, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports were certainly not the source of Mr. Grossman’s statistics, since the statistics apparently include items which the FBI does not track, such as gun accidents.
The actual FBI statistics disprove Mr. Grossman’s claim that more gun control leads to more safety. The tables below show the homicide rates and the total violent crime rates, sorted by the the stringency of a state’s gun control laws. States with an “A” rating have the more severe laws, and states which a “F” have the least repressive.
Average of Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter Per 100,000 population
Average of Violent Crime Rate Per 100,000 population
Thus, the “A” states–with the most gun control laws–are by far the most dangerous.
Unlike Mr. Grossman, I do not believe that simple state-to-state comparisons provide a definitive answer about the efficacy of various social policies. Multi-variate studies, taking into account many different factors, provide better information. My point here is that Mr. Grossman’s simplistic state-to-state comparison–which he and his publisher claim to be decisive, “staggering” proof that gun control works, are false, even their own terms.
B. “in the next two minutes, someone will be shot by a handgun”.
Mr. Grossman begins the book by announcing: “In the next five seconds, another handgun will be manufactured in the United States. In the next two minutes, someone will be shot by a handgun.” Both of these claims are wildly false.
According to the BATFE, in 2004 in the United States, there were 728,511 pistols manufactured, and 294,099 revolvers. This is a total of 1,022,610 handguns manufactured in the United States in 2004.
Simple division shows that this is 2794.02 per day, or 116.42 per hour, or 1.94 per minute. This equals one new handgun every 31 seconds.
Mr. Grossman does not say where he got his figure of one every 5 seconds, but he has overstated the rate of handgun manufacture by 620%.
What about the claim that “In the next two minutes, someone will be shot by a handgun.” This claim is utterly false, and cannot be rescued using even the highest estimates for shootings involving all types of firearms.
Let us being with data from the National Center for Health Statistics for 2004. (As with firearms manufacture, it is the most recent year for which complete data are available.) Let us take the number of fatal gun shots (the majority of which are suicide), which is 29,557.
The last year for which NCHS has data on non-fatal gun shot wounds is 1997. That year, there were 64,207. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Nonfatal and fatal firearm-related injuries–United States, 1993-1997,” Morbidity & Mortality Wkly Rep., Nov. 19, 1999 (vol. 48, issue 45):1029-34.)
The number of woundings has almost certainly declined since 1997, because we know that fatal gun shots have declined since then. Indeed, according to the 2005 annual report of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, gun crime declined by 50% from 2001 to 2005. (See pages 9-10 of the report.) If we bias the data in favor of Mr. Grossman, we can hypothesize that there was no decline in wounds from 1997 to 2004.
Then we get a figure of 29,557 + 64,207 = 93,764 divided by 365 days = 256.88 per day = 10.67 per hour. This is a rate of once every 5 minutes and 37 seconds (or every 337 seconds) for all types of firearms.
The NCHS wounding figure includes all non-fatal gunshot wounds which were treated in hospital emergency rooms. There may have been other gun shots for which the victim did not seek hospital care; presumably, these wounds would tend to be very minor. Scholarly gun control advocates Cook and Ludwig estimate 113,000 gun shot wounds in 1997, including fatal and non-fatal.
Again, let us (counter-factually) presume that there has been no decline since 1997. If we use Cook and Ludwig’s estimate of 113,000 total wounds in 1997, then the per day rate is 310, and the hourly rate is 12.9, which is a rate of once every 4 minutes and 40 seconds, for all guns.
Based on 2004 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, handguns were used in 78% of gun homicides. Because handguns are less powerful than are rifles and shotguns, it makes sense to presume that a gun shot wound would be more likely to be caused by a handgun than would a gun shot homicide. This would be especially likely for the thousands of wounds (in Cook and Ludwig’s estimate) which do not even necessitate hospital treatment.
So let us again make an assumption in Mr. Grossman’s favor, and estimate that 90% of non-fatal gun wounds come from handguns. Let us also use the (high) Cook-Ludwig estimate for total wounds, rather than the lower estimate from the National Center for Health Statistics. Let us also assume (counter-factually), that wounds have not declined since 1997. Then: 29,557 x. .78 = 23,054 fatal handgun wounds. (113,000-29,557) x .9 = 75,099 non-fatal handgun wounds. This is a total of 98,153. This is 268.91 per day, or 11.2 per hour. Or one every 5 minutes and 21 seconds.
Mr. Grossman claims a handgun rate of once every two minutes. Making extremely generous estimate in Grossman’s favor, we find that he has overstated the handgun wounding rate by at least 268%.
Every reasonable person would prefer a society in which the handgun wounding rate was less than even one per year.
But the fact is that Mr. Grossman, to bolster his handgun “epidemic” claims, has recklessly exaggerated the data by hundreds of percent.
C. “nearly half” of gun deaths are suicides
This claim appears on page 8. The actual figure is about 57%. I do not suggest that the difference between whatever figure Mr. Grossman had in mind, versus the actual number, is tremendously significant. But it hardly seems unreasonable to ask an author to take care to find out an easily-obtained item of data.
National Center for Health Statistics, 2003 data for firearms deaths
Under 1 year
In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Act. As originally proposed, the Brady Bill did not require a background check, but did required a two-week waiting period, and prohibited handgun sales without police approval. As finally enacted, the bill included a provision–originally supported by the NRA and sponsored by NRA A-rated Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) for a mandatory “national instant check” using computers; the Brady waiting period sunset in 1998, and was replaced with the NRA’s National Instant Check System.
A. Did the Brady Bill reduce crime?
Mr. Grossman insists that it did, and tells his readers: “As the saying goes, ‘Do the math.’” (34-35). He provides, however, no evidence that the Brady Bill reduced crime; he simply supplies data about the number of transactions prevented under the Brady Bill.
Scholars and gun control advocates Jens Ludwig and Philip Cook actually did the math, and reported their results in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The Brady Act had no effect on gun homicide, they found. The only benefit the authors could find was a reduction in gun suicide (but not overall suicide) among people over age 55.
One reason may be that many of the Brady rejections are based on incomplete criminal justice records; the records, for example, show an arrest, but not that the case was dismissed.
B. Would the Brady Bill have stopped John Hinckley?
Mr. Grossman quotes Mrs. Sarah Brady (39. also, 44):
“There’s certainly a chance a background check would have prevented Hinckley from getting a gun…In those days, you were supposed to buy a gun in the state where you lived. So he lied about his residence on his application form. And he got his gun illegally. If Texas had run a background check, they likely would have caught him in his lie and denied him the purchase.”
Unfortunately, Mrs. Brady is simply incorrect. Hinckley was a legal resident of Texas, where he bought the gun. Accordingly, there is no possibility that a background check on Hinckley would have revealed that he was not a Texas resident. Moreover, the Brady Bill check does not include a residence check.
Indeed, a police background check was run on Hinckley a few days before he bought the guns, and nothing turned up. Hinckley was caught trying to smuggle another gun (while he already owned) aboard a plane on October 9, 1980, in Nashville. His name was run through the National Crime Information Center, which reported, correctly, that he had no felony convictions in any jurisdiction. He was promptly released after paying a fine of $62.50 and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.
On October 13, 1980, John Hinckley walked into Rocky’s Pawn Shop, in Dallas, Texas, and walked out shortly thereafter with two .22 caliber RG revolvers. As with the retail purchase of any firearm, the gun dealer was required to complete a federal form which listed Hinckley’s address. Because Hinckley was buying two handguns in the same five-day period (in fact, at the same moment), the dealer also filled out another federal form. That federal form was sent to the local office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
By federal law, the dealer was required to verify that Hinckley was a resident of Texas, the state in which he was buying the handgun. When asked for identification, Hinckley offered his Texas driver’s license.
Hinckley moved around a great deal, from one Texas address to another. The Lubbock address he listed on his federal gun form (the address for a rooming house) was different from both his driver’s license address and his address in the then-current Lubbock phone book. Of course moving frequently is not a federal crime. Because the only use of the driver’s license (on a gun purchase) is to prove identity and residence in the state, there is no federal requirement that a handgun purchaser reside at the street address shown on his license, as long as the address is in the same state. Even if Hinckley had deliberately made a false statement about his address, the act would not have been illegal; a false statement on the federal form is illegal only if it relates to the purchaser’s eligibility. While a person’s state of residence does relate to eligibility, address within that state does not.
In other words, Hinckley’s purchase would have been illegal under federal law only if he were not a resident of Texas. Merely offering a Texas driver’s license with a street address that was no longer current and was different from the address put on the federal form was not illegal.
During the previous summer, Hinckley had attended both summer sessions at Texas Tech in Lubbock. According to federal gun regulations, a university student is considered a resident of the area where he attends school, and may purchase firearms there. When Hinckley was arrested in Nashville (a few days before he bought the handguns), he identified himself as a Texas resident.
Significantly, Hinckley, after the assassination attempt, was the subject of an intensive federal investigation. The federal government used every resource possible to convict Hinckley. Yet, Hinckley was not charged with illegally purchasing the handguns in Texas. Had the prosecutors believed that Hinckley was guilty of an illegal gun purchase, the charges would likely have been brought. The case could have been prosecuted before a conservative Dallas jury, rather than a liberal Washington one. Further, Hinckley would then have had to convince the Texas jury that he was insane not just on the day of the assassination attempt, but six months beforehand.
If the full resources of the Department of Justice did not find enough evidence even to charge Hinckley with an illegal gun purchase, it is not realistic to claim that a routine background check would have found the exact same transaction illegal.
In any case, law enforcement authorities already had an opportunity to run a check on Hinckley. Because Hinckley bought two handguns on the same day, his purchase was immediately reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (as it was then known) as required by federal law. At the time, the Bureau reportedly ran name checks as standard procedure, but did not run detailed background checks on multiple handgun purchasers (such as Hinckley) even though it had the legal authority to do so. Perhaps BATF concluded that the expense of running the checks exceeded the likely benefits.
Hypothesize the fact that Mr. Grossman and Mrs. Brady assume (but for which the Justice Department apparently had no evidence): Hinckley was no longer a Texas resident. Would the assassination have been prevented by a background check? Almost certainly not.
How would the police have found Hinckley’s “lie”? If they had looked in the phone book, they would have seen Hinckley listed as a Lubbock resident. To ascertain that Hinckley did not reside in Texas, the police would have had to visit his purported residence at least once. Since many police departments do not have the time to visit the scene of residential burglaries, it is not realistic to assume that they would have bothered to verify the address listed as Hinckley’s residence.
Most importantly, the police never would have found the “lie” about Hinckley’s address, because they would not be checking addresses. Under the Brady Act, the police do not verify anyone’s address. As Mrs. Brady’s own organization stated, in lobbying for passage of the Brady Act, “The ‘investigation’ is limited to the review of police and court records.”
Sources: Hinckley trial transcript, pp. 1489-1559. Texas driver’s license #9457099, issued to John W. Hinckley, Jr., 1612 Avenue Y, Lubbock, Texas, in Hinckley trial transcript, pp. 1751-52. Southwestern Bell, Lubbock-Slaton Telephone Directory (November 1979) (listing “John W. Hinckley…409 University Av.”). 18 United States Code § 922(a)(6). ATF Rul. 80-21, reprinted in Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, (Your Guide to) Federal Firearms Regulation 1988-89, ATF P 5300,4 (6-88), p. 73.
A. Cop-Killer/Armor-piercing bullets
Mr. Grossman and Senator Hart claim that terrorists can buy “armor-piercing ammunition.” (53; Hart xv). In support of the claim, Mr. Grossman describes a video by the Brady Campaign, involving the Fabrique Nationale (FN) 5.7 pistol (99-100).
The video purports to show two bullets from the FN 5.7 penetrating a police vest. The video does not follow the federal protocols for testing vests and ammunition. Notably, the video does not disclose what type of ammunition is used. According to the Firearms Technology Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, none of the types of ammunition for the FN 5.7 which are available for sale to the public in the United States are armor-piercing.
B. Gun shows and Terrorists
Under federal law, the laws for gun sales at gun shows are exactly the same as for gun sales anywhere else. (Details here.) Mr. Grossman claims that the “gun show loophole” results in terrorists acquiring guns from gun shows. The claims are much weaker on closer examination.
1. Connor Claxon is said to have bought concealed guns “in packages they mailed back to Northern Ireland to be used against the British government in terrorist attacks.” (78-79).
Actually Claxon was convicted of gun smuggling, but not of supplying guns to terrorists. The case counts as an incident of guns shows being used to supply terrorists only if one deliberately ignores the jury’s findings of fact.
Moreover, Claxon’s purchases at gun shows were approved by the same background checks as if he had bought firearms in a retail store.
2. Muhammed Navid Asrar is another “example of weapons flowing through gun show loopholes to terrorists.” (78).
On October 30, 2001, federal prosecutors secured a guilty plea for immigration law violations by Muhammad Navid Asrar, an illegal alien from Pakistan. While illegally living in Texas, Asrar purchased several firearms at gun shows. In federal court, Asrar pleaded guilty to illegal possession of ammunition, since it is illegal for illegal aliens to possess firearms or ammunition. While Mr. Grossman has claimed that the illegal alien was a terrorist, no one in the government has so claimed.
3. Ali Boumelhem. According to the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin of November 17, 2000:
“An FBI terrorism task force arrested a Lebanese resident of Detroit allegedly involved in shipping weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah guerrillas. Ali Boumelhem, 35, was apprehended just before departing on a scheduled trip to Lebanon. Authorities say that Boumelhem, a leader in the militant Amal militia and a ‘sympathizer’ of Hezbollah, traveled frequently to gun shows to buy arms and then hid them in cargo crates bound for Lebanon. FBI agents intercepted one cargo container bound for Lebanon which contained a pair of shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a radio and a police scanner. In addition, an FBI informant told investigators that he had seen Boumelhem in Beirut unloading shipments of automatic weapons, explosives, grenades and rocket launchers. He faces charges in a US District Court of shipping firearms to a nonlicensed person.”
On September 10, 2001, Boumelhem was convicted by a Detroit jury of federal weapons charges. Shotguns and ammunition are indeed the kinds of products which one can buy at a gun show. “Automatic weapons, explosives, grenades and rocket launchers” are certainly not. Thus, it appears that Boumelhem had some source unrelated to gun shows from which he obtained very powerful weapons.
Even before Boumelhem began his arms acquisition spree he was a convicted felon, so it was illegal for him to acquire or possess firearms or ammunition. Yet like most convicted felons, he knew someone who could make purchases legally: his brother. Boumelhem brought his brother to gun shows, to make “straw purchases.” More laws against gun shows would not stop straw purchases, since the straw purchaser (the surrogate for the real buyer) is chosen because he has a clean record. (Firearms industry efforts to thwart straw purchasers are detailed below.)
Currently, stringent federal background checks are already required for the acquisition of automatic weapons, explosives, grenades, and rocket launchers — yet Boumelhem was apparently able to obtain those. Given that Boumelhem acquired police scanners (no background check) and rocket launchers (virtually impossible to buy legally, even after a very strict background check), perhaps the lesson of the Boumelhem case has less to do with background checks on shotguns, and more to do with the necessity of strictly watching suspected terrorist sympathizers — as federal agents commendably did with Boumelhem.
Indeed, the Boumelhem case is a good illustration of two contrasting approaches to anti-terrorist law enforcement. Because Boumelhem had a straw purchaser working for him, nothing that Mr. Grossman proposes would have made any difference in his case. To use Boumelhem as a pretext for passing restrictive laws about gun shows is purely symbolic politics — to pass legislation for the sake of appearance, even when the legislation is manifestly irrelevant to the very case which is proclaimed as the reason for passing the law. Such symbolism does for gun safety precisely what confiscating toenail clippers from airline pilots does for airplane safety: nothing. Indeed, such symbolism reduces the freedom of law-abiding people, and distracts the public and the government from genuinely substantive actions.
Mr. Grossman is quite sure that the gun rights movement in general, and the NRA in particular, are evil. He alternates between theory that NRA is only concerned with firearms manufacturers, or only concerned with the Republican Party. He also makes implausible charges about bigotry, and about alleged support for carrying guns while drunk.
A. “The NRA has become an arm of the Republican Party…”
So says the then-head of the Brady Campaign, Michael Barnes. (103).
Yet the NRA refused to endorse the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush in 1992, or Bob Dole in 1996. It’s hard to believe that something is an “arm” they party if it refuses to lift a finger on behalf of the party’s head.
The notion that the NRA is an arm of the Republicans must sound very strange to the Republicans who have been defeated by NRA-endorsed pro-gun Democrats such as Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, and Nebraska Governor and Senator Ben Nelson.
During the 2006 election, the only two realistic Republican hopes of defeating Democratic US House incumbents were in Georgia. There, the NRA-endorsed, A-rated incumbent Democrats, Jim Marshall and Sanford Bishop, blanketed the airwaves with advertisements touting their pro-Second Amendment voting records. Both of them narrowly won re-election. Bishop, by the way, is black–a relevant point in light of the racism charges discussed below.
B. NRA as tool of firearms manufacturers
Mr. Grossman also writes that the NRA’s “only concern is with the profits of the gun industry.” (133-34, quoting an anti-gun activist.)
This would be news to the gun industry, because every time there has been a conflict between the interests of gun users and gun makers, the NRA has sides with the former. The NRA, after all, is a group of four million consumers. Manufacturers have a separate lobby: the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI).
Usually the NRA and SAAMI share common goals — just as book readers and book publishers often have common goals. But sometimes the NRA and the industry diverge. For example, the first major federal anti-gun law, the Gun Control Act of 1968, was initially pushed by American manufacturers to curb the spread of inexpensive imported guns. The gun industry backed it, and the NRA fought it.
For similarly protectionist reasons, the industry supported Drug “Czar” William Bennett’s 1989 ban on the import of so-called “assault weapons.” The NRA, on the other hand, went ballistic, and launched a massive campaign against the import ban and its administration supporters.
Like most businesses, the American firearms industry is protectionist. Like most consumer groups, the NRA supports free trade.
Mr. Grossman claims that when he ran a web search for “Second Amendment rights” “one of the first web sites that came up” was a racist site. (58). Strangely, he does not name the web site and the search engine. When I ran a search for “Second Amendment rights” through all the major search engines in November 2006, and examined every site which appeared on the first screen, there was no site like the one Mr. Grossman described.
Mr. Grossman claims that “the racist thread appears in the rhetoric of the most venerable of all pro-gun groups, the National Rifle Association.” (64)
As proof, he quote NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre “There are many politicians willing to sacrifice the Second Amendment as the first step in the homogenization of American culture.” (64).
When I ran “homogenization of American culture” through the Google search engine on Nov. 14, 2006, the first screen results involved the weakening of regional distinctions, the growth of national businesses, post-WWII conformity, suburbanization, national restaurant chains, television, and national advertising. If you are against homogenization, then you want to celebrate cultural diversity. For Mr. Grossman to take the anti-homogenization comment as being racist says more about Mr. Grossman than about Mr. LaPierre.
Mr. Grossman also quotes from a 1989 paper by now-retired NRA Research Coordinator Paul Blackman. (Blackman is now a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute; I have co-authored one book and many articles with him.)
Blackman is quoted as saying that deaths of homicide victims who are “criminals themselves and/or drug addicts or users…in terms of economic consequences to society, are net gains.” Well, “in terms of economic consequences,” that is generally true.
Blackman was addressing the assertion that gun-related injuries and deaths cost society $20 billion annually. Blackman noted that most of the alleged “costs” were lost productivity — lower contributions to society (taxes paid, etc.) that were lost if a productive young person died. One of the oddities of the public-health “productivity” analysis is that it sees children and retired people as drains on society. According to this flawed analysis, if a 20-year-old gangster shoots an 80-year-old, there is no economic loss to society beyond the costs of the funeral; on the other hand, if the 80-year-old victim manages to kill the 20-year-old in self-defense, tens of thousands of dollars in productivity are imagined to have been lost.
Blackman simply noted that, to the extent these young thugs were unlikely actually to become productive members of society, their deaths did not deprive society of tax revenue or other economic productivity. If they were caught and sent to prison, they would cost society about $20,000 per year. If their criminal careers were not interrupted by prison or by being shot (either by a good citizen or by another criminal), the most active of these criminals would cost society about $400,000 per year, according to Justice Department estimates.
Mr. Grossman apparently believes that if you think that criminals are not economically beneficial to society, then you must be a racist.
D. Gay Rights and Abortion Rights
One Nation is certain the people who support the Second Amendment must be enemies of some other causes that Mr. Grossman cares about: “there is a clear link between people who are passionate about denying women the right to make reproductive choices and homosexuals right the right to live in marital harmony while, equally passionately, defending the right of virtually anyone to own and use firearms.” (66)
Actually, there is no such link; pro-Second Amendment advocates can be found all over the spectrum on abortion rights and gay rights issues.
On the abortion issue, Mr. Grossman of Colorado perhaps has forgotten Colorado’s own Gale Norton, who served two terms as Colorado Attorney General, and then served five years as Secretary of the Interior. She is staunchly pro-gun, and has delivered the keynote address at the NRA annual convention. She is also staunchly pro-choice on abortion.
As for the “clear link” on gay issues, Mr. Grossman might consider Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who as Minority Leader worked hard and effectively to help pass the Protection of Commerce in Lawful Firearms Act. As Minority Leader, Senator Reid also led opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment to ban on gay marriage.
And then there’s Pink Pistols, the grassroots pro-gun organization for gays, lesbians, and their allies. Pink Pistols has 35 chapters nationwide, and just opened its first Canadian chapter. Their motto is “Armed Gays Don’t Get Bashed.”
Can you find Second Amendment supporters who disagree with Mr. Grossman on the abortion and gay rights issues? Certainly. That is because Second Amendment supporters are very diverse. There are hundreds more politicians, writers, and scholars who could be listed who agree with Mr. Grossman on abortion or gay marriage – and who passionately defend Second Amendment rights.
Mr. Grossman quotes Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer: “In Virginia’s governor’s race, the Republican candidate runs on a platform that many think will become the next gun-lobby battle cry: allow people to carry loaded, concealed weapons in bars.” (68).
Virginia law currently allows people to carry loaded, unconcealed handguns into bars, with no need for a permit. Yet people who obtain a concealed handgun permit (by undergoing a fingerprint-based background check, and safety training), are forbidden even to enter (while carrying) a restaurant which holds a liquor license. VA Code 18.2-308.
The Virginia reform proposal would simply return Virginia law to its pre-1995 status, allowing concealed handgun permitees to enter a restaurant and have a meal there. The proposal applied only to establishments which receive less than 35% of their gross revenue from alcohol. Nothing in the proposal would change Virginia’s law against carrying firearms while under the influence of alcohol.
Mr. Grossman insists that he is not “anti-gun”, yet the describes the firearms business as “the one that makes things designed to kill, not to help people, save lives, or educate children.” (93)
In fact, firearms are made to help people — by saving lives, by protecting people from violent felony attacks, and by providing legitimate recreation in sports such as trap shooting, skeet shooting, sporting clays, and target shooting. Under responsible adult guidance, firearms are used millions of times a year to help educate children in responsibility, sportsmanship, and conservation.
A. Chicago gun stings
Mr. Grossman makes a big deal about some alleged stings in which undercover Chicago police officers claimed that they found suburban gun stores which were willing to knowingly supply firearms to criminals. (106-07).
Mr. Grossman does not inform his readers that the police working for Chicago’s extremely anti-gun Mayor Daley recorded only video for the stings, and chose not to record audio. The strange choice raises serious doubts about what the gun dealers actually said.
Notably, not a single one of the many instances of (supposed) clear commission of major federal felonies by any of the gun stores has resulted in a criminal conviction. The one exception is a single dealer, who was planning to retire, agreed to a plea bargain whose only consequence was that he would go out of business.
A “straw purchase” involves a person who can legally buy a gun acting as a surrogate for the acquisition of a firearm by a person who is prohibited from possessing guns (such as a convicted felon). The National Rifle Association wrote the 1986 law which explicitly banned straw purchases. The law was part of the Firearm’s Owners Protection Act.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is the trade association of the firearms business. In conjunction with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the NSSF runs a program called “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy.” The program trains firearms dealers how to detect potential straw purchasers, and how to ask questions to uncover attempted purchases.
The program also supplies in-store materials to inform customers about the straw purchase law, and to deter straw purchase attempts.
Perhaps the single most mean-spirited passage in One Nation is Mr. Grossman’s sneer that “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” is merely “lip service.” (109).
Mr. Grossman never informs readers (perhaps because he himself does not know) that “Don’t lie” is a joint program of the NSSF and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. “Don’t Lie” also partners with US Attorneys in the relevant jurisdictions.
It is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a public-private partnership led by the Department of Justice, along with the National District Attorneys Association, and other law enforcement organizations. “Don’t Lie” is partially supported by a grant from the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.
BATFE Director Carl J. Truscott, speaking at the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference in Kansas City on June 17, 2004, affirmed:
”We recognize the value in partnering with private organizations and gun enthusiasts because we share a common interest in a safe society.”
(emphasis added.) The BATFE Director’s view—that law enforcement and lawful firearms manufacturers “share a common interest in a safe society”—is quite different from Mr. Grossman’s malicious and evidence-free claims that firearms manufacturers support criminals.
At a January 26, 2006, the BATFE Director said that NSSF is one of
”our partners in the fight to keep guns out of the hands of criminals…I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the National Shooting Sports Foundation…The Don’t Lie for the Other Guy program is a vital in educating firearms dealers and their employees how to recognize and deter the illegal purchase of firearms through straw purchase. This program is an important tool” for ATF….”
According to BATFE’s 2005 annual report, the Don’t Lie program, as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, helped cause 50 percent reduction in firearms violence from 2001 to 2005, the first four years of the program.
C. Bob Ricker
Mr. Grossman devotes lots of ink of Bob Ricker, a professional lobbyist who formerly worked for gun rights groups, and who now works for gun control groups. Mr. Ricker is presented as proof that the firearms industry knows itself to be wicked.
According to Mr. Grossman, Mr. Ricker worked for a trade group called the American Shooting Sports Council. “His next move was to the position of associate general counsel for the National Rifle Association, which was to become his last professional involvement with the firearms industry and its lobbyists.” (111) “It was in 2003 that Ricker reached the point where he could no longer remain silent…” (111).
What Mr. Grossman does not tell you: In 1999, Mr. Ricker was terminated from his position at the American Shooting Sports Council because he was using his position to lobby for gun control. Mr. Ricker’s poor management had so damaged the group that it had lost its credibility; the ASSC eventually was absorbed by the more-established NSSF.
Contrary to what Mr. Grossman says, after 1999 Mr. Ricker was never hired by the National Rifle Association. Mr.Ricker began assisting the trial lawyers in anti-gun lawsuits in 2001, not 2003, as Mr. Grossman claims.
Mr. Ricker is currently a paid employee and lobbyist for a gun control organization – a Potemkin group which poses as a “hunting organization” and is run by activists which a long history of support for repressive gun control laws. Mr. Ricker’s organization is so hostile to gun ownership that the group even complained about firearms advertisements being broadcast during sporting events.
According to Mr. Ricker’s September 27, 2005, deposition, Mr. Ricker’s “biggest” client is the Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence, a group which favors the prohibition and confiscation of handguns.
As an American, Mr. Ricker has every right to lobby for whomever he wants, and to get paid for it. But the Bob Ricker in Mr. Grossman’s book bears only a passing resemblance to the real-life Bob Ricker.
Interviewed by Mr. Grossman for One Nation, Mrs. Sarah Brady candidly admits that the gun control movement has “hit rock bottom.” Mr. Grossman, however, promises his readers that “Things are changing…Montana, generally considered a safe Republican state where guns are away of life and gun ownership is a GOP issue, elected a Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, in 2004, by a large margin.” (101)
Whatever is changing is not a reduction in the electoral power of the Second Amendment issue. Mr. Schweitzer was A-rated and endorsed by the National Rifle Association. The 2006 elections resulted in more pro-gun Democrats in Governor’s mansions, the United States Senate, and the US House of Representative than we have seen for many years. Change indeed, but hardly a sign of growing power for the anti-gun movement.
A. Ronald Reagan
Mr. Grossman relies on Mrs. Brady for a political history of the successes of the gun control movement. Mrs. Brady’s memory has a few gaps.
Regarding the history of the Reagan Presidency and the NRA, Mrs. Brady states: “Luckily, Reagan didn’t follow through and help them.” (49-50).
Actually, President Reagan was the first sitting President to address the annual NRA Convention, in Phoenix in 1983. His speech extolled the NRA, reeled off a list of the pro-NRA reforms in gun laws which he had already implemented, and promised to help enact the NRA’s flagship bill:
You know, I’ve always felt a special bond with the members of your group. You live by Lincoln’s words, “Important principles may and must be inflexible.” Your philosophy put its trust in people. So, you insist on individuals being held responsible for their actions. The NRA believes that America’s laws were made to be obeyed and that our constitutional liberties are just as important today as 200 years ago.
No group does more to promote gun safety and respect for the laws of this land than the NRA, and I thank you.
We’re working closely with your leadership and congressional sponsors of firearms legislation, such as Senators McClure and Hatch and Congressman Volkmer. I look forward to signing a bill that truly protects the rights of law-abiding citizens, without diminishing the effectiveness of criminal law enforcement against the misuse of firearms.
Your leadership’s support has been important to us. Just last year, I signed two amendments into law. One eliminated unnecessary recordkeeping requirements on 22-caliber rimfire ammunition. The other saved many custom gunsmiths from financial ruin.
And I want you to know that I’m in favor of the Civilian Marksmanship program. I support this idea because clear back to the Revolutionary War, one of the great talents of American soldiers has been their marksmanship. And it turned out they developed this shooting at targets and plinking as young boys. So, I’m asking Secretary Weinberger to study ways in which the marksmanship program can be improved.
I’m also happy to report that since I took office the sale of M – 1 rifles to participants and instructors in high-power rifle marksmanship training programs has been increased significantly. And I have asked the Department of Defense to look at ways in which sales might be increased even further.
President Reagan kept his promise, and on May 19, 1986, he signed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, a far-reaching reform of federal firearms law. The law was sponsored by Idaho Republican Jim McClure and Missouri Democrat Harold Volkmer.
Thirty-two pages after reporting as fact Mrs. Brady’s silly claim that President Reagan never helped the NRA, Mr. Grossman waxes indignant that: “In 1986, the powerful lobby led a successful effort to hamper the ATF’s enforcement powers under the McClure-Volkmer Act.” (82) Has Mr. Grossman forgotten who was President in 1986?
B. The Brady Campaign’s Record
One Nation recounts a pair of triumphs of the Brady Campaign which never actually happened. According to Mrs. Brady:
“When we worked for the Brady Bill, we lobbied nonstop for states we had to get with us. Illinois was a great example. Who would have thought that Illinois would go for a bill like ours. But we stayed on them until they came around.”
(Brady, 54). Illinois has had a licensing system for gun owners 1966, but in the period when the Brady Bill was being pushed, Illinois never enacted anything like the Brady Bill.
Then there is “George Ryan, who, as a Republican lieutenant governor back in the eighties, got an assault weapon ban passed…” (Brady, 56.)
George Ryan, who was recently sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for public corruption, served as Lieutenant Governor from 1983 to 1991. During that period, the Illinois legislature never passed an “assault weapon ban.” Nor has the legislature passed such a ban to this day.
Mrs. Brady also misremembers the scope of at least one previous triumph. She states that the Brady Campaign has always taken the position on “assault weapons” that “only the new sales of such weapons and of those in production would be prohibited; previously sold weapons would not be affected.” (Brady, 43). To the contrary, Mrs. Brady’s organization successfully lobbied for the enactment of a New York City “assault weapons” law which provided for the confiscation of previously sold, lawfully registered firearms.
As you can see in the Denver Press Club debate, Mr. Grossman has a great knack for relating everything back to the Columbine High School murders. Not all of his claims about Columbine are accurate, however.
A. Charlton Heston
Like Michael Moore in the movie Bowling for Columbine, Mr. Grossman falsely implies that the NRA President delivered “from my cold, dead hands” line in Denver. Mr. Grossman also re-writes the formulation “as cold, dead fingers,” a line which Mr. Heston never used.
B. Tom Mauser
One of Mr. Grossman’s fellow gun control lobbyists in Colorado in Tom Mauser, whose son was murdered at Columbine. In Mr. Grossman’s book, Tom Mauser is the voice of Columbine victims, although in the broader world, Columbine families have more diverse perspectives.
Darrel Scott (whose daughter Rachel was murdered at Columbine) testified against gun control in the US House of Representatives in May 1999. Brian Rohrbaugh and Sue Petrone (whose son Daniel was murdered at Columbine) have criticized the “assault weapon” ban as useless symbolism.
Evan Todd was wounded at Columbine, survived, and helped save the lives of two of his fellow students. In a speech, he explained his belief that moral decay, not the lack of gun control, were the cause of the murders. His father expresses similar sentiments
One Nation quotes Tom Mauser rejecting the that criminal control is a better idea than gun control: “My son was not killed by criminals—they only became criminals once they pulled the triggers.”
In fact, the Columbine killers had long been convicted criminals -– after they were apprehended breaking into an automobile for theft.
Long before the attacks at Columbine High School began, the killers had violated at least 7 state and 10 federal weapons laws.
A. America vs. Europe
One Nation Under Guns makes it very clear that the American national character is defective. Mr. Grossman twice quotes Mrs. Brady: “We haven’t grown up yet.” (27, 30). He finds it very profound that his fellow Colorado anti-gun lobbyist Tom Mauser says the same thing. (151)
Mrs. Brady describes the United States as “a young and spoiled country” (40).
In contrast, she recalls her first visit to Europe: “What a shock it was to get over there and find out how sophisticated everyone was.” (40).
Sophisticated Europe has been the scene of numerous genocides in the last century, most recently in Bosnia, and every one of them was preceded by government confiscation of firearms from the victim population. When you remember that genocide is a form of homicide, it becomes clear that, for as long as records have been kept, the United States has been a much safer place that Europe.
B. Great Britain
Mr. Grossman’s book is full of claims that the United States is more dangerous than other countries because of American gun policies. Let us, like Mr. Grossman, assume that genocide victims do not “count” in assessing how dangerous a country is. Instead, let us examine one of the very few nations in Europe which did not experience genocide in the 20th century: Great Britain.
Great Britain also has the most severe anti-gun laws in the Western world, which gun control advocates admiringly call “The Gold Standard of Gun Control.” The nation ought to be a perfect test case for Mr. Grossman’s theories.
Yet Great Britain has a much higher violent crime rate than the United States. A joint study of the British Home Office and the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics found that:
“the English robbery rate was 1.4 times America’s”
“the English burglary rate was nearly double America’s”
the English assault rate was more than double America’s”
“serious crime rates measured in victim surveys were all higher in England than in the United States.”
(Patrick A. Langan and David P. Farrington, Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales, 1981-96, United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, October 1998, NCJ 169284).
British Home Office figures show that violent crime in Great Britain is rising at the second-fastest rate in the world, well above the US rate, and on par with crime-ridden South Africa. On May 4, 2001, the Telegraph disclosed that the risk of a citizen being assaulted was “higher in Britain than almost anywhere else in the industrialized world, including America.” The latest UN data show that Scotland (which has always kept separate criminal justice statistics from England and Wales) has the highest violent crime rate of any developed nation, and that England and Wales are not much better.
Only about one-eighth of American burglaries take place while the victim is home, whereas over half of all British burglaries do. Taking into account that the overall British burglary rate is twice the American rate, the British rate of home invasion burglaries appears to be at least nine times the American rate.
Evidence from other nations also suggests that the American policy whereby a person can own a firearm in the home for lawful protection plays a significant role in deterring burglaries of homes when the occupants are present.
If your idea of safety includes being able to enjoy the tranquility of your home, without being attacked by an invader who breaks in to your own dwelling, America is much safer than many of the more “sophisticated” countries.
Mr. Grossman insists that neither he nor his national affiliate, the Brady Campaign, are anti-gun. He doth protest too much.
Mrs. Brady opposes gun ownership for self-defense: “To me, the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes.“
And she does not think very highly of sporting purposes, either. “Sarah Brady, of course, does not support attempts to get more and younger children hunting with guns.” (50-52)
Her organization (and, by extension, Mr. Grossman’s organization), is part of the International Action Network on Small Arms, whose founder and head, Rebecca Peters, calls for the prohibition and confiscation of all handguns and shotguns, and for banning all rifles except single shot rifles which a range of less than 100 meters. She argues that gun possession for self-defense should be totally prohibited. Her organization promotes the idea–which is widely shared at the United Nations–that there is no human right to self-defense.
This same principle is apparent in Mr. Grossman’s book, in which he denounces the National Rifle Association for opposing the confiscation of firearms from the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Grossman falsely claims that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has defended “those who would seize upon a natural disaster to commit armed mayhem, to intimidate citizens, or to engage in looting at gun point.” (5-6)
Mr. Grossman’s conflation of criminals and victims is at the heart of the gun control movement’s opposition to armed self-defense. The NRA never defended looting or mayhem. It did defend the right of law-abiding citizens in New Orleans and Jefferson parishes to keep their lawfully-owned firearms, for defense against looting and mayhem, in circumstances in which the government was quite obviously unable to provide protection.
It was Mr. Grossman’s beloved Brady Campaign which fought, unsuccessfully, to allow federal funding of gun confiscation from victims of a natural disaster even when there is no law or regulation authorizing such confiscation. You cannot get much more extremist than that.
One Nation does, unintentionally, tells us a great deal about why the gun control lobby has “hit rock bottom.” Mr. Grossman, the head of a major state gun control group with close ties to the Brady Campaign, has no shortage of passion or energy. He also “knows” many things that are not so, and many other things that are not nearly so clear-cut as he thinks they are.
In most legislative bodies, a legislator, or her aide, will listen to arguments from lobbyists on both sides of an issue. When Mr. Grossman, and his counterparts around the country, tell dystopian tales of .50 caliber machine guns for sale at gun shows, of various loopholes, and of the many other pseudo-facts recounted in One Nation, they make the job easy for the citizen lobbyists on the other side.
The pro-Second Amendment lobbyists need only show the legislator (or her aide), the statute that proves there is no loophole, or point out the government statistics that belie the latest panic campaign from the Brady Campaign.
Understandably, then, the anger and frustration of Mr. Grossman and his counterparts continue to increase, as their gun control proposals are rejected again and again by legislative bodies. The rejections lead to a vicious cycle in which the anti-gun lobbyists blame everyone but themselves: the NRA and the gun manufacturers are bigots who work on behalf of terrorists and criminals, and the American people are “immature” and have refused to “grow up” and make themselves into New World Europeans.
It is unlikely that any change in tactics would allow Mr. Grossman and his allies to achieve their most ambitious goals. Yet it might be true that the gun control lobby in the United States could be relatively more successful if it were more scrupulous about factual accuracy.
That One Nation is a careless, and recklessly inaccurate failure does not mean that there are no good arguments in favor of gun control, but it does help demonstrate why the contemporary American gun control movement has been so unsuccessful.
 A similar phrase is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, although no one has been able to provide an actual citation.
 There are many, many other issues raised in One Nation for which is might be said that the author’s presentation of the facts is so incomplete as to leave an unsophisticated reader with a misleading impression. On some of these issues, I have written articles which, read in conjunction with One Nation, might help the reader develop more complete perspective; these issues include so-called “assault weapons”, (non-existent) “undetectable guns,” fifty caliber guns, armor-piercing ammunition, gun shows, the National Instant Check System, and the BATFE.
 Both of them had broken with the NRA by endorsing bans on self-loading firearms (so-called “assault weapons”). Bush had also made numerous anti-gun appointments, including the Chair of the Republican National Committee, Drug “Czar” William Bennett, and an HUD subcabinet official who promoted gun bans in public housing.
 Terrorist Training. 18-9-120.
“(1) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) ‘Civil disorder means any planned public disturbance involving acts of violence by an assemblage of two or more persons that causes an immediate danger of, or results in, damage or injury to property or to another person.
(b) ‘Explosive or incendiary device’ means:…
(II) Any explosive bomb, grenade, missile, or similar device;
(III) Any incendiary bomb or grenade, fire bomb, or similar device, including any device which:
(A) Consists of or includes a breakable receptacle containing a flammable liquid or compound and a wick composed of any material which, when ignited, is capable of igniting such flammable liquid or compound; and
(B) Can be carried or thrown by one person acting alone.
(c) ‘Firearm’ means any weapon which is designed to expel or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive or the frame or receiver of any such weapon….
(2) Any person who teaches or demonstrates to any person the use, application, or making of any firearm, explosive or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death to any person and who knows that the same will be unlawfully used in furtherance of a civil disorder and any person who assembles with one or more other persons for the purpose of training or practicing with, or being instructed in the use of, any firearm, explosive or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death to any person with the intent to unlawfully use the same in furtherance of a civil disorder commits a class 5 felony.”
Possessing a Dangerous or Illegal Weapon. 18-12-102.
“(1) As used in this section, the term ‘dangerous weapons’ means a…short shotgun…
(3) A person who knowingly possesses a dangerous weapon commits a class 5 felony.”
Unlawfully Carrying a Concealed Weapon. C.R.S. 18-12-105.
“(1) A person commits a class 2 misdemeanor if such person knowingly and unlawfully:
(b) Carries a firearm concealed about his or her person.”
Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon–Unlawful Possession of a Weapon–School, College, or University Grounds. C.R.S. 18-12-105.5.
“(1) A person commits a class 2 misdemeanor if such person knowingly and unlawfully and without legal authority carries, brings, or has in such person’s possession a deadly weapon…in or on the real estate and all improvements erected thereon of any public…high school.”
(2). Requires a sentence of 12 to 24 months, as opposed to the normal class 2 misdemeanor sentence of up 12 months.
Possession of handguns by juveniles. C.R.S. 18-12-108.5.
“(1)(a) Except as provided by this section, it is unlawful for any person who has not attained the age of 18 years knowingly to have any handgun in such person’s possession.”
“(c)(1). Illegal possession of a weapon by a juvenile is a class 2 misdemeanor.”
Possession, Use, or Removal of Explosives or Incendiary Devices. C.R.S. 18-12-109.
“(2) Any person who knowingly possesses or controls an explosive device commits a class 4 felony.”
Possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle. 33-6-125.
“It is unlawful for any person, except a person authorized by law or by the division, to possess or have under his control any firearm, other than a pistol or revolver, in or on any motor vehicle unless the chamber of such firearm is unloaded.”
Note: Most of the above statutes have exceptions, none of which applied to Harris and Klebold.
Federal Law, Gun Control Act
Possession of Firearms by Drug Users. 18 USC 922(g)(3).
“(g) It shall be unlawful for any person–
(3) who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance…to…possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”
Gun Free School Zones Act. 18 USC 922(q).
“(2)(a) It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.”
Sale of Handgun to a Minor. Possession of Handgun by a Minor. 18 USC 922(x).
“(x)(1) It shall be unlawful for a person to sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer to a person who the transferor knows or has reasonable cause to believe is a juvenile–
(A) a handgun;…
(2) It shall be unlawful for any person who is a juvenile to knowingly possess–
(A) a handgun;…”
Federal Law, National Firearms Act
The federal Gun Control Act covers rifles, shotguns, and handguns, and was enacted in 1968 (and has since been greatly amended). The National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted in 1934, and covers a smaller category of weapons. For NFA purposes only, a “firearm” is defined to include sawed-off shotguns, and “destructive devices.” 26 USC 5845(a)(1) and (8). “Destructive devices” include “any explosive…bomb…or similar device.” 26 USC 5845(f)(1). With that definition in mind, here are the NFA violations committed by Harris and Klebold:
Making Tax. 26 USC 5821.
Requires a $200 tax for the construction each NFA “firearm.” The two sawed-off shotguns were made into NFA “firearms” when Harris or Klebold sawed off the barrel to less than 18 inches. Harris and Klebold also failed to pay the $200 tax for each bomb they made.
Making. 26 USC 5822.
Prohibits making any NFA firearm unless the maker has registered with the Secretary of the Treasury, and identified in advance the firearm that will be made.
Registration. 26 USC 5841(c).
Requires manufacturers of NFA “firearms” (the sawed-off shotguns, and the bombs) to register each firearm with the Secretary of the Treasury.
Identification. 26 USC 5842.
Requires that every maker (Harris and Klebold) of NFA firearms place serial numbers on them.
Record and Returns. 26 USC 5843.
Requires manufacturers to keep certain records.
Prohibited Acts. 26 USC 5861.
“It shall be unlawful for any person–
(f) to make a firearm in violation of the provisions of this chapter.”
Each violation of the above laws is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Each sawed-off shotgun and each bomb constitutes a separate violation.
Other Federal Laws
Explosives Law. 18 USC 842.
“(i) It shall be unlawful for any person–
(2) who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance….
(4)….to…possess any explosive which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”
“(j) It shall be unlawful for any person to store any explosive material in a manner not in conformity with regulations promulgated by the Secretary [of the Treasury].”
Nick Paton Walsh, “UK Matches Africa in Crime Surge,” The Guardian, Jun. 3, 2001.
 Philip Johnston, “Britain Leads the World on Risk of Being Assaulted,” The Telegraph, May 4, 2001.
 “Scotland Worst for Violence – UN,” BBC News, Sept. 18, 2005 (“Scotland has been named the most violent country in the developed world by a United Nations Report.”).
 Tom Jackson, “Keeping the Battle Alive,” Tampa Tribune, Oct. 21, 1993.
SEC. 557. Title VII of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 USC 5201) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘SEC. 706. FIREARMS POLICIES.
‘‘(a) PROHIBITION ON CONFISCATION OF FIREARMS.—
No officer or employee of the United States (including any member of the uniformed services), or person operating pursuant to or under color of Federal law, or receiving Federal funds, or under control of any Federal official, or providing services to such an officer, employee, or other person, while acting in support of relief from a major disaster or emergency, may—
‘‘(1) temporarily or permanently seize, or authorize seizure of, any firearm the possession of which is not prohibited under Federal, State, or local law, other than for forfeiture in compliance with Federal law or as evidence in a criminal investigation;
‘‘(2) require registration of any firearm for which registration is not required by Federal, State, or local law;
‘‘(3) prohibit possession of any firearm, or promulgate any rule, regulation, or order prohibiting possession of any firearm, in any place or by any person where such possession is not otherwise prohibited by Federal, State, or local law; or
‘‘(4) prohibit the carrying of firearms by any person otherwise authorized to carry firearms under Federal, State, or local law, solely because such person is operating under the direction, control, or supervision of a Federal agency in support of relief from the major disaster or emergency.
‘‘(b) LIMITATION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person in subsection (a) from requiring the temporary surrender of a firearm as a condition for entry into any mode of transportation used for rescue or evacuation during a major disaster or emergency, provided that such temporarily surrendered firearm is returned at the completion of such rescue or evacuation.
‘‘(c) PRIVATE RIGHTS OF ACTION.—
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—Any individual aggrieved by a violation of this section may seek relief in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress against any person who subjects such individual, or causes such individual to be subjected, to the deprivation of any of the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by this section.
‘‘(2) REMEDIES.—In addition to any existing remedy in law or equity, under any law, an individual aggrieved by the seizure or confiscation of a firearm in violation of this section may bring an action for return of such firearm in the United States district court in the district in which that individual resides or in which such firearm may be found.
‘‘(3) ATTORNEY FEES.—In any action or proceeding to enforce this section, the court shall award the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.’’.
[ Home page ] [ Weblog: Kopel's Corner ] [ Short articles ] [ Short articles, 1986-2000 ] [ Books & journal articles ] [ Criminal Justice ] [ Digital economy ] [ Environment ] [ Health, education & welfare ] [ History ] [ International ] [ Media analysis/1st Amendment ] [ Religion ] [ Right to Arms: USA ] [ Right to Arms: International ] [ Terrorism ] [ Waco ] [ Multimedia ] [ Great books ] [ Great movies ] [ Links ] [ en Français ] [ en Español ] [ in Italiano ] [ Polski ] [ Pусский ] [ Deutsch, Svenska, Nederlands, Dansk, Português, Český, Magyar ] [ Independence Institute main site ]
Search this website with the FrontLook engine (slower, but more complete results than the Google search).
Sign up for free Second Amendment Project e-mail newsletter.
Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to Independence Institute, 13952 Denver West Pkwy., suite 400, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536. (email)email@example.com
Copyright © 2006