CONTROLLING ACCESS TO FIREARMS

4/23/99 (am. 5/2/03)
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Gun control advocates typically claim publicly that they want to prevent children, criminals and violent people from getting access to firearms.  They want to accomplish these goals with laws and regulations that are "reasonable" and "common sense" to themselves and others who know essentially nothing about guns and their use.  Or about the fact that places where law-abiding, stable people are allowed to have guns, and even carry them about in public, have less crime and violence.  Or about the fact that similar laws and regulations have already been used (even in the U.S.) as a first step to make it impossible for people to legally protect themselves, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens.

Gun controllers work the "children" angle by saying that "1.2 million gradeschool children have access to guns in their homes" and x percent of gun (or handgun) owners keep (or store) their guns loaded and unlocked.  These are just some more of the false statements spread by the antigun medical literature, pediatricians and ignorant media "informed" by that medical literature.  They won't tell you how they came up with their estimates.  Or, if their "access" means that the kids can actually get unlocked guns in their hands.  They won't tell you that the "keeping" or "storing" was actually the owners having the guns while those owners were at home and in complete control of them.  If they do tell you, expect a lie.  Get the truth here about the prevalence of unsafe gun storage.

Gun owners too want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, violent people and unsupervised children.  But they want it done in such a way that it does not keep guns from the law-abiding and it does not make criminals out of innocent people for no good reason.  Unfortunately, most of what gun controllers advocate goes far beyond their publicly stated goals, and much of it is bound to do so as a result of the fact that what they propose cannot actually help or might even make things worse and would inevitably lead to even more extreme proposals.

CHILD SAFETY LOCKS

There is no such thing as a child safety lock.  The term was invented by gun control advocates because it plays on emotions of the public.  They apply it to an already existing thing called a "trigger lock."  Trigger locks can be useful for safety and deterence of theft, but they don't make a gun safe or immune from theft.  Even the good ones can be removed with some effort, especially by a skilled lock-picker.

The locks won't even work on some guns.  And there are alternatives that are as good, and some that are better, for various situations.  So laws requiring sale of a trigger lock with each firarm or handgun would, in many cases, require people to buy locks even though the locks would not be used because they can't be used, the owner would actually use something better, or the owner already has spare trigger locks.  The result would be to increase the cost to the owner with no benefit (which cost is probably what the gun controllers want).

Depending upon the lock and the gun, and how the lock is installed, the lock might not keep the gun from firing.  To bill it as a safety device is to invite reliance on it rather than proper safety procedures and, eventually, to cause deaths and injuries.  It can be dangerous for people (even gun owners) to be certain that there is only one right (or safe) way to do something.

Because the media has already molded public opinion to agree with gun controller claims about "safety locks" most gun makers have "voluntarily" pledged to include trigger locks with guns they sell.  This will increase the costs of the guns a few dollars each and will make gun controllers and federal government responsible for any injuries that result from reliance on the trigger locks (although they will not actually accept that responsibility).

"SMART" OR "PERSONALIZED" GUNS

Gun control advocates are advocating laws to prohibit use of any handguns other than those that can be fired only by the "right" person.  They don't mention that there is no such thing except for one design that has just now started a little real world evaluation.  There are a few competing concepts for such guns.  They all rely on microelectronics such as that used in computers.  Would you trust your life to a computer that is frequently jarred by shock such as that which occurs in a firearm?  One company has already given up trying to design one that would read fingerprints to identify the "right" person.

If a design comes along that will work like it is supposed to, every time at least for some known period, and is reasonably priced, many gun owners will buy it gleefully although there will be a down side.  For example, say you own one of these guns which, like the design now in evaluation, relies on the "right" person wearing a special ring.  You don't have the ring on but a criminal bursts in waving a big knife.  Oops!  Or, there is a moment in which you could grab your friend's gun to shoot someone who is killing your friend or someone else in the room.  BIG OOPS!  Not only are you not able to shoot the criminal but he, seeing you grab the gun, immediately shoots and kills you!

The public is all for such devices only because they have been lead to believe that they exist and they work!

CRIMINAL ACCESS TO GUNS

Criminals get guns in several main ways.  They could make them.  They get them from other criminals.  Many of the guns are stolen.  Some are sold to people who aren't known to be criminals because the owners don't know they are criminals.  Some are sold by people who don't care.

Law abiding gun owners have good reason to help reduce criminal access to guns.  Those criminals victimize gun owners.  The crime and violence committed by the criminals is wrongfully blamed on guns and gun owners, resulting in pressure to take away the rights of gun owners.  What can be done without hurting gun owners?  This is what gun controllers should be working for rather than dividing the country with proposals of oppressive and ineffective laws.

Something done to reduce criminal access to firearms actually does nothing to help if it reduces access by the law-abiding by the same proportion or even greater proportion.  This should be kept in mind if someone thinks to reduce criminal gun possession by passing a law that only the law-abiding will conform to.

Some ways in which criminals and juveniles can be discouraged or deterred from obtaining guns include penalizing criminals who steal or sell guns more than if they just stole anything else, and sentence enhancement for guns being among stolen property in possession.  An approach that has been very successful in recent years involves frequent checking of high-risk criminals on parole/probation or on the streets awaiting trial under agreements (because the people are most likely to illegally possess guns, they are subject to arrest and search without warrant at any time, and they would go immediately to jail because gun possession would be a violation of release terms).  Another effective approach has been to actually enforce firearms laws, especially federal laws (since a convicted person will serve the actual sentence).

California law includes provisions to require every firearm transfer to be done through a licensed dealer, and the new owner to pay for it, supposedly to get a waiting period and background check.  It results in the state maintaining a registry of handguns, which was really part of the objective.  Probably some gun owners sell or give guns without adhering to this law, either out of ignorance or to avoid the nuisance or registration, which many gun owners expect to eventually be used as a tool for firearms confiscation just as it has been in places like New York City.

If there are any prosecutions, they are hopefully of people selling to criminals or juveniles.  If one buys a gun in California or registers one on bringing it into the state (as law now requires), you'd better have it if the authorities ever come around to "see" it or you will automatically have broken the law requiring you to go through the dealer if you transfer the gun or the law requiring you to report if it is stolen.

They certainly have the people who buy guns legally under control!  But, they've earned the distrust of gun owners in the process and it appears that criminals are still not having any difficulty getting guns in California.  The background checks for private transfers could have been had without the registration; more gun owners would have willingly complied and we would have avoided some transfers to disqualified people.

SECURITY

What should gun owners do?  Make it as hard as feasible for children to access guns and criminals to steal guns and actually use them or sell them.  If you live in a rural area or small town where it has never been necessary to lock your home or lock up your guns in the home, do it anyway.  Even the rare instances of theft are enough to feed the small criminal market.  And don't rely on juveniles.  Even a few kids hurting themselves or others is too much of a penalty for even the one-in-a-million kid that turns out to be not as trustworthy as you thought.

When you aren't in personal control of a firearm, lock it up even in multiple ways (action lock, box/vault/safe, room AND building) if feasible given your protection needs.  You can't totally preclude theft but making it as hard as possible to actually gain complete (unfettered) access to the gun will be a deterrence and will increase the likelihood that the gun will be recovered or damaged rather than converted to criminal use or used in a suicide.

California has what we think is pretty reasonable law to protect against youths getting guns in their own homes (one of the few California gun laws we could say that about).  It does not dictate how the home owner secures guns.  It doesn't require anything in relation to youths who break into a home where they don't belong.  It establishes that certain reasonable methods (like locked box or trigger lock) are sufficient but allows use of others.  It fixes a penalty for the adult owner if a youth takes a firearm outside the home, and a more severe penalty if the youth threatens or hurts anyone (including self).  The law seems to have little effect, partly because it is rarely enforced.  We only assume that state-mandated safety training must cover it.

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