I’ll admit it. A headline that promises a plan to disarm America is gonna get my click. There’s no way I can resist reading a column that touts a way to remove hundreds of millions of firearms from the legal possession of tens of millions of Americans. And in fact, Splinter‘s Jack Crosbie doesn’t think we can actually get every gun out there. Or, as he puts it:
The reality, I think, is that a truly gun-free America is impossible—firearms will always be a tool of violence and power in the modern world. The hope is that eventually, we can choose and control how the power to kill is applied in a way that kills the fewest people.
Of course, that isn’t what Crosbie wants at all. What he wants is to make it has hard as possible to own a gun and exercise your rights. His argument is couched in terms of public safety, but he ignores real strategies that could dramatically reduce gun-related violence without a single new gun control law in favor of enacting virtually every gun control law imaginable.
Republicans have cloaked their behavior in the language of patriotism, positioning themselves as “defenders” of the Second Amendment. Obviously, one way to roll back the gun landscape would be to repeal the Second Amendment. But that is, at best, highly unrealistic. Likewise, hashing out the semantics of a “well-regarded militia” and the “right to bear arms” is a pointless exercise in shouting online. The end goal of any progressive gun violence plan must be to reduce the number of guns in this country.
That begins by passing laws that regulate and limit the sale of new weapons, but will eventually have to reckon with the vast number of guns already in American homes. Gun buyback programs, which will be a necessary part of this solution, have succeeded in other countries, but in the U.S. we will have to deal with the firmly entrenched mindset that freedom only comes from the power to kill. Statewide attempts at gun control, like age limits for purchasing and transport or storage laws, have already encountered stiff resistance from some communities, with local sheriffs in at least four states claiming that they will create “gun sanctuaries,” a perverse bastardization of “sanctuary cities” for immigrants, where state or federal gun laws won’t be enforced.
One man’s “sanctuary” is another’s perverse bastardization, apparently. Crosbie does a decent job of identifying some of the issues gun prohibitionists face, from the hundreds of millions of firearms in private hands to the growing pushback against gun control laws and the adoption of tactics used to avoid immigration enforcement. I think there are also parallels to the cannabis legalization movement, but Crosbie apparently doesn’t see the connection.
I think Crosbie attitude towards the constitutional argument is very telling. Gun control advocates simply aren’t swayed by arguments that what they want is unconstitutional. They would love to repeal the Second Amendment, but that’s hard, so they’re content with ignoring it as much as possible while hoping a future Supreme Court will eventually overturn Heller and declare that there is no real right to keep and bear arms.
Crosbie says any disarmament plan must begin with “universal background checks,” though he doesn’t think the bill passed through Congress is perfect. For one thing, he thinks it’s too anti-illegal immigrant.
HR8 is far from perfect, but would accomplish some vital, necessary things: it would mandate that all firearm transfers go through a licensed dealer, who is required to perform a background check and close the gun show and private transfer loophole, which often allows gun buyers to circumvent background check processes at licensed dealers. It also includes a Republican poison-pill amendment that requires gun sellers to notify ICE if a prospective buyer fails a background check because they’re undocumented. One step forward, one step back. The latter drawback of the bill seems to be precedent for a wider Republican strategy of linking gun reform with racist immigration legislation, something President Trump directly mentioned in his response to the El Paso shooting.
Even though Crosbie has issues with the bill, he says passage would allow for more gun control laws to follow. First up, gun licensing.
The natural extrapolation from a background check bill is a federal licensing system for guns, which would ideally incorporate a background check in the licensing process. Such a system seems obvious—it is ludicrous that you need a license to operate a car but not to own a gun—but is only now starting to become a central tenet of Democratic gun violence legislation, as several of the 2020 candidates support a federal license. For progressives, pushing beyond universal background checks is vital—several recent studies have shown that background checks alone have negligible or indistinct results on gun violence and suicides, but they’re undeniably an important step toward curbing violence as a platform from which to build future laws.
Remember, gun licensing laws are about reducing the number of legal gun owners through bureaucracy and red tape. They’re not designed or meant to prevent criminal possession of firearms. Crosbie also wants a federal permit-to-purchase law, red flag laws, and “Scared Straight”-style programs to introduce the most likely perpetrators of violence to the real world consequences of their actions (which is the first idea that Crosbie’s floated I could get behind). Again though, Crosbie stresses these are just first steps.
An ideal system would look similar to the United Kingdom’s gun laws, which include a ban on semi-automatic firearms that fire bullets larger than the .22 caliber, and a near-total ban on handguns. Their rates of gun death are minuscule compared to the U.S. While wild hog hunters may disagree, in my opinion shotguns and bolt-action rifles are largely sufficient for hunting and pest control in rural areas like the one I grew up in. These weapons still pose a risk, of course, but one that can be effectively mitigated by strong licensing or permitting requirements.
And there ends Crosbie’s real argument, though he takes a few more paragraphs to wrap up. He seems to have forgotten about those recalcitrant Americans in their 2nd Amendment sanctuary counties, or the hundreds of millions of firearms that are currently legally owned by Americans, or how any of his proposed laws would be enforced at all. All those words and paragraphs, and not a single one mentions enforcement.
Any plan to “disarm America” is going to have to explain what happens when millions of Americans decide they’re gonna go ahead and remain armed. People didn’t stop drinking when Prohibition came into effect. People didn’t stop smoking pot when it was criminalized. I bet if you asked Jack Crosbie what he thinks of the War on Drugs he’d call it an abysmal failure, yet he wants to institute a War on Guns instead. Is he ready to see jail cells filled with young men of color picked up for possessing a firearm without a license? That’s what’s happening in New York State, where most arrests for SAFE Act violations are taking place in New York City, and most of the guys getting arrested are young men without violent records. The fact that Crosbie refuses to even acknowledge the enforcement side of his gun control regime, much less its actual impact, turns his entire column a fairy tale instead of an actual plan.