June 2, 2016: Response to Alan Berlow

Alan Berlow’s Op-Ed piece titled “Gun Control That Actually Works”, ran in the New York Times on May 31, 2016 and the Tampa Bay Times on June 1, 2016.

Alan Berlow proposes that the 1934 National Firearms Act is a model to build on. He is suggesting that this law should be the basis for how all gun owners are treated in the United States.  That he suggests that the 1934 NFA is “Gun Control That Actually Works” is an example of Orwellian double-speak.  The 1934 NFA was so flawed, it was found to be unenforceable in the 1968 Hayes decision by the US Supreme Court.  It had to be redefined as Title II of the 1968 Gun Control Act and paired with a new Title I to overcome the constitutional flaws. 

Signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 26, 1934, it was a reaction to the crimes of such notorious criminals as John Dillinger, Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. In an environment where “something has to be done”, bad legislation is a common outcome.  I am not calling the NFA of 1934 bad because of the intent to remedy concealed firearms that were being modified from their manufactured configuration and being used to commit crimes against the populace, but because it did not abide by the precepts of the constitution. 

Congress can pass any form of legislation and a President can sign it into law. The President can make declarations in Executive Orders of any kind.  It takes funded interested parties time to bring suit against bad legislation to have it struck down or rectified.  As a side note on this year’s election, in addition to the presidential vote you are also voting to support the proposed or nominated future Supreme Court Judges who will preside over cases arising out of bad legislation and executive orders. 

Back to Mr. Berlow. He doesn’t address the intent of the NFA.  At the time, Attorney General Cummings understood an outright ban would be unconstitutional so the NFA sought to tax the identified weapons out of circulation.  Mr. Berlow’s intent must be the same, to mandate additional tax on the purchase and transfer of any firearm to stifle the exchange of firearms in the market place and reduce the number of new firearm acquisitions.  Of course, registration of every gun is required to ensure the IRS is collecting all the revenue it can from all the guns that have been legitimate since the founding of the United States. 

Mr. Berlow’s conjecture that having the general population of gun owners register their guns would lead to similar rates of crimes as NFA owners is wrong. NFA owners rarely commit crimes with their NFA devices.  Similarly, Concealed Permit Holders rarely commit crimes with their concealed guns.  That has nothing to do with registration suddenly making an individual responsible.  In the previous paragraph in his piece, he states that of the NFA weapons that show up at crime scenes, nearly all of them were unregistered.  Criminals will not register their guns.  The reason criminals don’t use expensive NFA guns to commit crimes is because they don’t need to.  There is no cost benefit to using a $24,000 Bren MK1 to rob a liquor store. Similarly a criminal is not going to obtain a concealed carry permit for a hand gun before committing armed robbery.  There are already laws and penalties if a person carries a concealed firearm illegally and is caught, or is caught with an unregistered NFA device.

Mr. Berlow may see this as a means to reduce violence committed with guns and he may see this as an acceptable exchange in the currency of personal liberty. This cost to personal liberty is not acceptable because it does nothing to address the cause of violence committed with guns.  Guns in and of themselves, do not cause violence any more than any other object that has ever been used to commit violence by one human upon another.  Violence is committed with knives, chemicals, cars and any manner of blunt object. 

I see this so much in print, broadcast, and cable media, and it is repeated so often that it has changed the vocabulary of even law enforcement spokespersons. I am referring to Mr. Berlow’s use of “assault rifle”.  He commits the all too common journalist mistake of using a commonly accepted word instead of the correct word. His use of “assault rifles designed for use by the military” as being part of the millions of firearms that are in private hands.  The military uses assault rifles because part of their mission is to assault bad people.  The military assault rifle is based on the Colt M16 which is a selective fire rifle. A selective fire rifle can either fire one round per trigger squeeze (semi-automatic) or multiple rounds per trigger squeeze (fully automatic). 

Fully automatic rifles are deemed NFA firearms and are regulated by the GCA. Semi-automatic rifles are not.  A semi-automatic rifle can look like a fully automatic rifle but it cannot function like a fully automatic rifle.  The sentence is inflammatory and inaccurate.  “Assault rifles designed for use by the military” are already NFA devices.  A semi-automatic rifle can be purchased in any number of configurations ranging from a traditional rifle to modern sporting rifles.  No matter the configuration, they still fire one round per trigger squeeze.  This is the feature that exempts semi-automatic rifles.

Mr. Berlow is certainly not the only journalist or author to confuse gun illiterate readers on this point and he may not understand there is a distinction himself. He uses that device to include NFA guns in the class of all commonly held firearms that he states “They should be brought under the act.”

I disagree with Mr. Berlow’s assertion that “a majority of our lawmakers are so cowed by the NRA” they rarely consider gun registration. I submit that a majority of our lawmakers understand the constitutionally enshrined right (not privilege) to keep and bear arms.  It doesn’t really matter if Congress, other politicians, or writers understand or even agree on the purpose of the Second Amendment.  What is important is that we have Supreme Court precedents that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and is fully applicable to the states because the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment as a privilege of American citizenship.

Address the roots of violence in mental health, culture, religion, mass media entertainment, personal responsibility, and gun owner responsibility before projecting schemes to deny Citizens of their right to keep and bear.



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