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Gun Control: What should be the limit?

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Another Objectivist and I have been following the recent "debates" (what with all the emotionalism) about guns. I can definitely understand the knee-jerk reaction to all these shootings, even after knowing that most if not all of them were gun free zones. I don't own any guns, I've only fired one once in my life. I vaguely understand the difference between semi-automatic and automatic. I've been hearing these "debates" filled with proclamations of statistics on both sides, I've read that article, I believe it was from Binswanger, and am still not necessarily sure about the whole issue.

 

I think there should be drawn a line between what are acceptable and unacceptable levels of defensive force (for example guns vs. nuclear bombs). But where does that line lay? Can a military expert tell us this? Ought we listen? Right now, machine guns, I believe, are banned. But why them and not semi-autos like these AR-15's? Which my Objectivist friend says can be used in pretty much the same fashion, if you know what you are doing. What is the principle defining the line?

 

What about these NRA members talking about, the second amendment, and defending ourselves against tyranny? Is that legitimate? I can't see AR-15's flying in the face of our military's might, but I also cannot see our military at least near the lower ranks even think about harming U.S. citizens. I can see using them against a Gestapo or a SS like force. I do have to say that I am proud that I live in a country where it is a major issue trying to take people's guns away from them, unlike many other country's whose citizens seem to have given up their lives to their governments.

 

From Binswanger's article and my friend, I am somewhat convinced that whatever is defined as legitimate, should not be regulated in the sense of registration, etc. But I am hesitant when it comes to the idea of people selling weapons to mentally challenged people.

 

I've read many of the forum's posts about this but they seemed a bit inadequate addressing this thing. Please respond to my questions and not refer me to another post.

 

Alex Bott

UIC College of Engineering

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Right now, machine guns, I believe, are banned. But why them and not semi-autos like these AR-15's? Which my Objectivist friend says can be used in pretty much the same fashion, if you know what you are doing. What is the principle defining the line?

Machine guns aren't banned, they are regulated. They can only be owned after asking permission from the various levels of government, while AR-15s, as far as the federal government is concerned, can be owned freely.

But "machine gun" is a loose term. There are large, ammunition belt fed guns that fire thousands of rounds a minute, and then there are magazine fed portable rifles like AKs (or even autimatic pistols), which politicians lumped in with with Gatling guns and the like. In reality, automatic rifles are no more potent than semi-auto rifles. In fact, as far as I know, semi-auto mode is more effective in combat.

The principle, as far as what must be regulated and what must be free to purchase is whether the gun can reasonably be used as a self-defense weapon or not. If it cannot, then licensing and registration(in which the would be owner explains the purpose of buying the weapon, whatever it may be - most likely hobbyists, the entertainment industry, gun ranges, etc. buy these; and then the government keeps track of the weapon until it is decommissioned) could be required. The government may also prohibit certain categories of people (criminals, the criminally insane) from owning any kind of firearms.

P.S. The distinction automatic/semi-auto is an arbitrary one. It should not be used. Caliber, type of round, and magazine fed/belt fed, should be used instead. The federal government's involvement should also be limited to regulating military grade weapons (modern tanks, attack helicopters, other serious threats to the security of the United States), and other weapons should only be regulated locally (thus allowing less populated areas to have far more liberal laws than urban areas).

What about these NRA members talking about, the second amendment, and defending ourselves against tyranny? Is that legitimate?

Depends on context. In the context of a well established LFC society, no, not really.

In the context of today's America, yes, to some extent, that is a legitimate reason to place special emphasis on gun rights. I certainly fully support the NRA, including their latest campaign.

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In reality, automatic rifles are no more potent than semi-auto rifles. In fact, as far as I know, semi-auto mode is more effective in combat.

 

Machine guns are much more potent than semi-auto rifles -- the S.A.W. (squad automatic weapon or M-249) is the highest casualty-inducing weapon in a typical fire squad; it even beats out the M-203 grenade launcher.

 

And though semi-auto mode is generally recommended in combat situations like those our military faces in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a legitimate reason for regulating fully automatic capabilities here in the states. One of the main reasons that semi is recommended in combat is because it is more controlled and efficient. The goal there is to achieve a high body count of bad guys and avoid capping a bunch of civilians. If our military wanted to lay down hell on just everybody in the area then full auto may be employed. The SF team that visited my University's ROTC last year told me that he has put his M4 on full auto twice in Iraq, both times when they were in a situation where there was a large number of bad guys and no civilians nearby.

 

For an Active Shooter like Lanza or Breivik, everyone in the vicinity is a target; they require no fire discretion. No such thing as fratricide for a loony loner, and civilian fallout is the goal. Even a well-meaning homeowner who wants to protect his family from harm at the hands of robbers or attackers is a potential threat to his neighbors or family members when he employs a full auto setting.

 

For those reasons, I think that weapons with fully automatic capabilities are legitimate subject matter for more intense legislation.

 

However, I can't really grasp why extended magazines are being cracked down upon. Adam Lanza reloaded what, five times? Not like the time it took him to spill a mag and slap in a new one saved any lives. Oh, and barrel shrouds. What were they thinking? "If the barrel's cool and comfy it's easier to kill children and puppies, obviously!"

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The government may also prohibit certain categories of people (criminals, the criminally insane) from owning any kind of firearms.

It's worth pointing out that the practical implementation of prohibiting gun sales to criminals involves requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. This is one of the prominent gun control proposals in the wake of the Newtown massacre, and probably the single law most likely to pass. The NRA is prone to prattle on about spreading 'suspicion' about gun owners by requiring background checks, or that it will lead to registration and confiscation, but the truth is that if you agree that violent criminals have forfeited their rights to buy firearms, universal background checks are simply the necessary practical implementation of this policy.

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Nicky,

 

What makes an AR15 a defensive weapon? Do you think there are reasonable situations where having one, is necassary? I live in the suburbs, and for the most part I don't see any use for them, other than for keeping back a mob? Is that why, for mob like situations, perhaps after a disaster, or something like the 1992 L.A. riots?

 

So maybe that is it, the semi-automatic rifles should be allowed for those situations whereas a RPG, a gatling gun, a belt fed "machine" gun, or a tank would have no reasonable justification outside of war. Do you think that is the line?

 

And to keep away those Gestapo guys in the future.

Edited by abott1776
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It's worth pointing out that the practical implementation of prohibiting gun sales to criminals involves requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales.

I'm not for prohibiting gun sales for criminals, I'm for prohibiting gun ownership by criminals. That doesn't involve background checks for all gun sales, it involves searching the homes of criminals suspected of illegally possessing guns, and putting criminals caught with guns in jail.

if you agree that violent criminals have forfeited their rights to buy firearms, universal background checks are simply the necessary practical implementation of this policy.

Universal background checks would be neither necessary nor practical. They're unnecessary for the reason I explained above.As for the practicality of that proposal, a universal background check requirement would be an even bigger joke than the current universal gun bans in Chicago and Washington DC (which lead the nation in gun violence stats).

Targeting law abiding citizens to prevent criminals from owning guns doesn't work. If gun shops don't sell guns to criminals, they can just use the black market to get them. The way to stop criminals from breaking the law is by investigating criminals who are suspected of gang activity, and putting them in jail when caught with guns they're not supposed to own.

Furthermore, it's pretty obvious that the Left's drive for registration is a stepping stone towards confiscation. I'm not speculating, their goals have been made very clear over the years, and there are countless examples of leftist politicians implementing total near-total gun bans, with no special emphasis on criminals whatsoever.

Edited by Nicky
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Machine guns are much more potent than semi-auto rifles -- the S.A.W. (squad automatic weapon or M-249) is the highest casualty-inducing weapon in a typical fire squad;

The M249 is not a magazine fed rifle. I made it tediously clear in the post you are responding to that I was referring to the automatic equivalents of magazine fed, semi-automatic rifles, not ammunition belt fed machine guns like the M249.

Nicky,

 

What makes an AR15 a defensive weapon? Do you think there are reasonable situations where having one, is necassary? I live in the suburbs, and for the most part I don't see any use for them, other than for keeping back a mob?

No, not a mob. If you're a home owner faced with three or more armed assailants (not an uncommon situation in American suburbs, due to an epidemic of armed robberies), a rifle in the hands of a skilled marksman is a better defensive weapon than a handgun for instance. Handguns are concealable and discrete, but they won't stop multiple armed assailants (since multiple rounds are usually required to stop just one assailant). Rifles are more intimidating and have greater stopping power. A round to the chest is likely to drop a person instantly.

Furthermore, rifles are terrible for criminal activity, precisely because they're so loud and obvious. That is why there are so few crimes committed with rifles, even though they are a very commonly owned type of weapon.

Not only are they a good defensive weapon, they are an almost exclusively defensive weapon. In terms of home defense in an average suburb residence, they're second only to a modern shotgun (and that's only because shotguns are easier to use, for untrained civilians). In terms of home defense on a larger estate, they're better than any other weapon.

Edited by Nicky
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The two (preventing criminals from buying guns and arresting criminals for owning guns) are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary, and both justified in the same way: violent criminals have forfeited their right to purchase and own firearms. Characterizing this as 'targeting law abiding citizens' is simply hyperbole. Universal background checks could conceivably be misused to erect barriers to law abiding citizens buying guns (by creating a process that takes months to complete, for example), but there is no reason why this must be so.

At the same time, universal background checks do erect significant barriers for criminals looking to buy guns, despite your appeal t the black market. Operating in the black market involves operating through an informal networks of contacts that many criminals simply do not have. Even if you do, it involves more risk and higher prices.

I fail to see why requiring background checks for gun sales at gun shows and internet sales of guns is a huge joke, or creates laws that are impossible to enforce. These steps are clearly more feasible than a universal gun ban; about the only thing they have in common is that people use the word 'universal' to describe them.

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I see this issue as similar to the question of so-called "Gun-Free Zones" at schools.  You haven't created an actual gun free zone simply by passing a law that says you can't bring a gun there.  In fact, this creates the kind of perverse scenario with zero enforcement where only the law-abiding citizens obey the law.  If you actually want schools to be gun-free zones, that requires erecting actual physical barriers to people bringing guns into schools (metal detectors, security guards, etc.).  If you call a school a 'gun-free zone' but don't erect any such barriers, then it's a gun free zone in name only.

 

Similarly, it's all well and good that we agree that violent criminals don't have the right to buy and own firearms.  However, unless you erect actual barriers to their purchase and ownership of firearms, then they've only lost this right on paper.  In actuality, they still have it.

 

Yes, it's true that this involves every person walking through a metal detector, or undergoing a background check.  That's what it takes if you want these restrictions to exist somewhere other than on paper.

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I am totally opposed to gun registration, but not opposed to background checks. Freedom of information requests make the misuse of registration information probable, as does the increase in governmental control over our lives. A background check is something else.

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The two (preventing criminals from buying guns and arresting criminals for owning guns) are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary, and both justified in the same way: violent criminals have forfeited their right to purchase and own firearms. Characterizing this as 'targeting law abiding citizens' is simply hyperbole. Universal background checks could conceivably be misused to erect barriers to law abiding citizens buying guns (by creating a process that takes months to complete, for example), but there is no reason why this must be so.

By targeting I mean initiating force against someone. Forcing innocent people to provide personal details to the government is initiation of force.

Any law which places the burden of proof on individuals to show they are innocent, rather than on the government to show that someone is a criminal, is initiation of force.

I am totally opposed to gun registration, but not opposed to background checks. Freedom of information requests make the misuse of registration information probable, as does the increase in governmental control over our lives. A background check is something else.

A background check that subjects individuals to any compulsion, or invades their privacy in any way, without the government showing probable cause first, is initiation of force.

The fact that you think freedom of information requests in this matter are illegitimate proves that you do in fact see it as a violation of your rights to have your privacy invaded and your personal details exposed. Granting the right to do that to the government, but not to private individuals, is a double standard that isn't justified by Objectivism.

 

Objectivist political principles do not grant the government any special powers against innocent citizens. They require that the government act objectively, by providing evidence of wrongdoing before using force.

Edited by Nicky
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By targeting I mean initiating force against someone. Forcing innocent people to provide personal details to the government is initiation of force.

Any law which places the burden of proof on individuals to show they are innocent, rather than on the government to show that someone is a criminal, is initiation of force.

 

How does running a background check force people to provide additional personal details to the government?  The gun purchase is registered with their name and the serial number on the gun in either case, and the background check (as I understand it) does not add any information to government databases.  It simply searches the existing data and notifies the gun dealer of preexisting criminal records.

 

As to individuals having to demonstrate their innocence, is this not what a proper border policy would do by screening for criminals and enemy combatants?  Is this not what the government does when considering hiring individuals as government employees, or what a private employer might also reasonably do?

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How does running a background check force people to provide additional personal details to the government?  The gun purchase is registered with their name and the serial number on the gun in either case, and the background check (as I understand it) does not add any information to government databases.  It simply searches the existing data and notifies the gun dealer of preexisting criminal records.

 

As to individuals having to demonstrate their innocence, is this not what a proper border policy would do by screening for criminals and enemy combatants?  Is this not what the government does when considering hiring individuals as government employees, or what a private employer might also reasonably do

In New Jersey to gain a purchase permit for a handgun one must get fingerprinted($80) and provide references. The references I provided were contacted and asked questions portaining to the applicants character along with whatever checking the government agencies do or did without my knowledge.

When the handgun is purchased (if you receive the purchase permit) the serial number of the item is then registered and recorded with the buyer's name.

Edited by tadmjones
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Another point regarding "defensive" weaponry:

The best item for someone to use in self-defense is highly dependent on context. Nicky presented the example of rifles on a large estate. But even person-to-person there will be differences. Smaller people will have trouble controlling more powerful rounds; their choices, then, are to reduce the stopping power of the weapon or to change the frame (using a rifle stock, for instance). If the person decides to reduce the caliber of the weapon, they may decide that they will need fire more rounds to compensate for the reduction in impact. The AR-15 is a fantastic mix of ergonomic frame, low-recoil ammunition, and high ammunition capacity. It makes a great defensive tool for the very small, who aren't comfortable with shotguns or high-caliber pistols.

Magazine capacity requirements hurt the weakest people. New York's newest 7-round maximum is particularly harmful. It's very common for  9mm semi-auto pistols to be sold with magazines that hold over ten rounds as a standard capacity. 9mm is on the lower end of "effective" stopping power. Big guys can compensate for this by buying a .45 caliber pistol that only holds 7 rounds with a factory-issued magazine. But a 75 year old lady would have trouble controlling such a weapon. Most criminals are young males who would have no physical problem firing a big gun; now they need to fear 75 year old law-abiding ladies just a little bit less.

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As to individuals having to demonstrate their innocence, is this not what a proper border policy would do by screening for criminals and enemy combatants?  Is this not what the government does when considering hiring individuals as government employees, or what a private employer might also reasonably do?

But if you don't think the government should do any of that at the border, or have a monopoly of government employees, or that a criminal somehow loses his right to self-defense forevermore, then I assume you recognize that your argument has no force at all in that case.

Edited by 2046
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How does running a background check force people to provide additional personal details to the government?  The gun purchase is registered with their name and the serial number on the gun in either case, and the background check (as I understand it) does not add any information to government databases.  It simply searches the existing data and notifies the gun dealer of preexisting criminal records.

I don't think it's that hard to get that to run a background check on every single gun sale, the government must initiate force against non-criminals.

As to individuals having to demonstrate their innocence, is this not what a proper border policy would do by screening for criminals and enemy combatants?

Dealing with the citizens of foreign countries, especially non-friendly ones, is governed by different principles than those of civil rights within a free society. Yes, when it comes to hostile nations and dictatorships, the government may in fact treat a whole nation as hostile and act accordingly. In fact, it may do so with any nation that isn't free and an ally.

The only circumstance under which such a request for additional information at the border would be abusive was if the other nation was an ally and willing to implement a common border security policy (the way the Shengen countries do in Europe). Then, it is no longer justified for the French government to force background checks on random Belgians driving across the open border.

Is this not what the government does when considering hiring individuals as government employees, or what a private employer might also reasonably do?

Again, I don't think it's that hard to get the difference between setting the terms when employing someone, and initiation of force. I decided that I'm going to try to stop taking these kinds of arguments seriously on this site, because I noticed that I've been wasting a lot of time stating the obvious. Edited by Nicky
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How does running a background check force people to provide additional personal details to the government?  The gun purchase is registered with their name and the serial number on the gun in either case, and the background check (as I understand it) does not add any information to government databases.  It simply searches the existing data and notifies the gun dealer of preexisting criminal records.

 

I agree with Nicky that the background check is a rights violation. It is so minor a violation that I wouldn't make it a big point of contention with most people, but among those with political literacy I am comfortable saying it.

The FFLs must keep a record of all sales, which includes the background check results of all customers. The worry is that, at some future time, Uncle Sam will decide he needs FFLs to turn in those records. Ari Armstrong suggested that we can avoid infringing on the rights of innocent people by getting rid of background checks and instead using a "no gun" list similar to the "no fly" list. That way you only get barred if you have been convicted of criminal activity or have been ordered by a court to seek treatment for a mental health issue. FFLs would be subject to increased liability if they sold to someone on that list a weapon that was later used in a crime.

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I agree with Nicky that the background check is a rights violation. It is so minor a violation that I wouldn't make it a big point of contention with most people, but among those with political literacy I am comfortable saying it.

The FFLs must keep a record of all sales, which includes the background check results of all customers. The worry is that, at some future time, Uncle Sam will decide he needs FFLs to turn in those records. Ari Armstrong suggested that we can avoid infringing on the rights of innocent people by getting rid of background checks and instead using a "no gun" list similar to the "no fly" list. That way you only get barred if you have been convicted of criminal activity or have been ordered by a court to seek treatment for a mental health issue. FFLs would be subject to increased liability if they sold to someone on that list a weapon that was later used in a crime.

 

The "no gun" list is an interesting suggestion, but I don't see how it is substantially different from requiring background checks.  To buy a gun, you would still have to provide your name and proof that you are who you say you are (as is done at the airport), and thus your name is still recorded with the purchase and the serial number of your gun.  The gun dealer doesn't have the information in your background check under this system, but surely the government could get that information if it desired.  In short, you still have to meet a positive burden of proof that you haven't been banned from buying a gun, the same as under a background check system.  In either case, providing one's name and proof of one's identity is simply what has to happen if we want to stop certain individuals from purchasing guns at the point of sale.

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Like I said, the difference is small. But I think that safeguarding against 4th amendment violations (however minor) is a substantial difference. I'm just brainstorming here, so don't take this as my firm position (I'm still trying to form one).

 

Records would not necessarily have to be kept. Nobody makes a record of my ID when I buy a pint of Dark Helmet Schwartzbier at Titletown Brewery. The authorities could do with guns as they do with beer and periodically "mystery shop" to see if IDs are checked.

 

Otherwise, a restriction on the individual does not necessitate a mandate that gun sellers check IDs. If they were liable for transferring weapons to known criminals/mental health risks, they would have an incentive to protect themselves by asking for IDs and for keeping a record. I doubt this would work very well. This is one of those cases where statistics might be used to decide public policy without violating anyone's rights. Someone should tell Crow.

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What about these NRA members talking about, the second amendment, and defending ourselves against tyranny? Is that legitimate?

It is legitimate because self defense is legitimate. The very existence of this country originated in the several states defending themselves against tyranny with individually owned and voluntarily wielded weapons. An attack on the second amendment is an attack on the legitimacy of the entire idea of America.

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