Criminalization of Assault Weapons and Limitations on Federal Powers.


Honest, this is the last post on this topic for a while. This was originally posted on Facebook and I was asked to place it here so it could more easily be shared. This post addresses something I didn’t mention in the previous post on this subject, where I stipulated a buy-back would be necessary. This buy-back would need to be voluntary. Read on…

During prohibition criminal gangs employed submachine-guns to murder each other, hosing down innocents and targets alike. This created a public outcry against these and other weapons commonly used mainly by criminals.

But these weapons were legally purchased by citizens in good faith- the government was not legally allowed to make them illegal retroactively and simply take them. Our founding fathers came from a long history of the governments of Europe using de-legalization as a method of stealing from citizens, and they were determined not to have that happen in their new country.

So the government heavily regulated these weapons. Purchasing them would require special checks and licensing, and a hefty transfer fee when they were sold or traded ($200.) The weapons that were already in private hands were also licensed, ‘grandfathered in,’ and no other registration was possible unless or until the weapons were transferred.

This actually seems to have worked. There were other forces in operation; believe it or not gangster leaders were sensitive to public opinion, and the indiscriminate killings undermined their attempts to portray themselves as some sort of twisted Robin Hood sticking it to ‘the man.’ Regardless these weapons were used dramatically less in crimes. Score one for regulation.

But there were very few of these weapons in civilian hands- most estimates I’ve seen say something under 2,000 total. Auto Ordinance, maker of the ‘Tommy Gun’ was constantly on the financial ropes, barely scraping along from meager contract to meager contract right up until WW2. Most people did not want or see any need for owning their very own automatic weapon, and those that did could go through the difficult and expensive procedure of becoming a collector. Relatively few people bothered.

This is not England or Australia- it is still not legal for the government to outlaw and criminalize legally-purchased property retroactively. We might want to ban assault rifles, but the simple fact is the limits of the government’s powers are such that the best they could do is make further sales of new weapons illegal, or at least subject to the same sorts of restrictions as automatic weapons. Existing owners would be required to license their weapons- at no cost to themselves- but would be free to keep them indefinitely, or until they chose to sell them to a properly-licensed purchaser. This will leave somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000,000 or more of these weapons ‘on the street’ and potentially available to spree killers.

Maybe regulating these weapons will help; one hopes. But it will not remove these weapons from society- we’d better be looking for more permanent solutions, ones that address the root causes of so many young people deciding to become spree-killers.

If you want to empower the Federal government to criminalize possession of legal property purchased in good faith and seize it, it will require a some very, very serious work- like a Constitutional Convention. But think carefully- do you REALLY want the government to have that power? Do you trust them to restrict it’s use to the interests of the public good?

Addendum: Individual states are allowed to enact legislation to restrict these weapons of course, but they face the same limitations as the Federal Government. California recently tried to criminalize possession of any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds, and the courts told them that they could not do so, as these were previously legal property, and they could not simply criminalize possession.

I neither publicly advocate nor oppose strictly regulating high capacity semi-automatic rifles and/or handguns. This post is for informational purposes. Forgive me, but I have spent enough time arguing about this issue in other venues; I am disabling comments on this post. (OK, WordPress is smarter than I am; I cannot figure out how to disable comments for a single post. Please refrain from commenting- any and all comments will be deleted regardless of whether or not they agree with me.)

Michael Tinker Pearce, 24 Feb. 2018

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