Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Slippery slopes, again

One of the tactics used by gun control advocates is to attack the "slippery slope" argument. They'll often do this before anybody even mentions the slippery slope. In any discussion of gun laws outside the gunblogosphere, one of the first five or so comments will invariably say, in so many words, "You gun nuts have to calm down. Every time anybody tries to pass a reasonable gun law, you all think it's the first step in taking your guns away." Usually they'll be much ruder than that, but it's the sentiment.

Obviously, part of the problem with this anti-gun meme is that almost none of their anti-gun proposals are actually reasonable, and a pretty good case can be made that gun control is inherently unreasonable. But what about that slippery slope? Are they right to think we're paranoid when we constantly worry that stupid, petty harassing tactics like "closing the gun-show loophole" will lead to serious restrictions on our rights?

It's actually easy to find the answer to that question spelled out in real life: move here to New Jersey and try to buy a handgun. First, you'll have to make an appointment with your local police, to fill out paperwork and be fingerprinted. If you're very lucky, your local cops will respect your rights and make this as easy as they can (mine do the prints for free, and on a couple evenings a week). If you're not... Many PDs only do fingerprinting during one hour a week, charge a fee, and put that hour where it conflicts with most people's work schedule. Then you'll have to fill out a form, pay a fee, and fill out another form releasing your mental health records. Then you'll have to provide two non-family "character references" who'll swear that you're fit to own a gun, don't drink heavily, and don't have "an explosive temper".

Then you wait. NJ state law explicitly states that the authorities have 30 days to investigate, and must then either issue your permit or give an explanation for a denial. This law is universally ignored, and NJ courts have ruled that any amount of delay is acceptable. Even in my gun-friendly town, I've never waited less than two months. In the "liberal" cities, waits of eight months to a year are common. During this time, the police will run a background check (no. 1) through the State Police, send their questionnaires to your character references and, most troublingly, send a third questionnaire to your employer. Not only does this tell a potentially anti-gun employer that you're purchasing a firearm (which could easily jeopardize your job in this state), but the process doesn't continue until all the forms are returned, giving your employer a de facto veto over your Second Amendment rights.

When this background check period is finally finished, you get a little unlaminated card that's just slightly too big to fit in a standard wallet slot. This card has to have your thumbprint on it, so that's another day off from work if your PD doesn't like the 2A.

So, you finally have your Firearms ID! Time to buy your gun!

Well, not yet. In addition to your FID, you need an individual pistol permit, in advance, for _each_ handgun you ever buy in the Garden State. That's another form, another fee, another round of questionnaires to your friends and employer, another background check (no. 2) and another wait of up to a year or beyond*. Once you finally get your FID and your triplicate carbon-copy pistol permit, you can finally go to a gun shop, lay down your money, and, hilariously, undergo the federally required instant background check that renders the entire foregoing process completely redundant.

These restrictions didn't happen overnight. They piled up step by step over decades. Why shouldn't we fingerprint gun owners? It's just a small, reasonable step that doesn't _really_ cause much of a burden. Why shouldn't we require character references? It's nothing more than an inconvenience, right? Why shouldn't we have the State police thoroughly investigate people who want to own guns? It's only thirty days. Why shouldn't we extend that period to however long it takes? If we think the SP background check is so important, isn't it worth making sure it gets done right?

The cumulative effect is that New Jersey has far, far fewer gun owners than the rest of the country, and the decrease in ownership has made it easier and easier for each new restriction to pass. How easy? Even with that mountain of delays, fees, and restrictions already weighing down and frustrating handgun purchasers in New Jersey, our soon-to-be-ex governor just pushed through a one-gun-a-month law. It's completely irrelevant to any public safety concerns in this state, and only adds another bucket to the mountain...

But there aren't enough gun owners in the state to oppose new gun control laws.

The restrictions snowball. Each arbitrary restriction reduces the number of people willing to go through the hassle, which makes it easier to marginally increase that hassle, which whittles down the number of resisters a bit more... It's a scorched earth tactic. They'll deplete our numbers through grinding attrition, until we're few enough for them to start pushing us back. It's worked in NJ. It's worked in NY. It's worked in Mass and California. And it leads to Great Britain, where gun owners were finally enough of a minority for near-total bans to be pushed through with little resistance**.

Much as we might wish otherwise, Mike Bloomberg is a very smart fella. He knows that this strategy works. He's used in in NYC, he's seen it work next door in NJ, and his plan to fight our emerging gun rights is to take the strategy national. Hamper gun shows (an important social and organizing venue) to the point that they can no longer be run profitably. Add risks of legal liabilities to gun ownership through "lost or stolen" laws and threats of prosecution for people who don't pass the instant check. Get rid of castle doctrine, so that victims who defend themselves with guns can be sued into poverty by the criminals' families. Open up gun shops to as much risk of criminal and civil prosecution--however weakly based--as possible, so that those shops can't afford to stay in business.

I truly think MAIG is consciously pursuing this strategy, but you know what? It doesn't matter. Whether they're schemingly selling their current silly restrictions as the first step in a master plan, or bumblingly proposing useless laws out of well-meaning ignorance, the result will be the same: California, then New Jersey, then Canada, then Britain. This is why we need to fight _all_ useless gun laws now, while we're still mostly America. Not out of paranoia, but out of an experience-based understanding of where useless restrictions ultimately lead.

[* - The letter of the law allows you to apply for pistol permits at the same time that you apply for your FID but doesn't require the PD to do it that way. So a PD that respects its citizens' rights can save you some time and paperwork on your first purchase. In, say, Jersey City, don't count on it. They basically have a two-year waiting period from "I'd like to become a gun owner" to actually being allowed tro purchase a handgun. This is why we've just recently started to see a surge in gun sales--the Obamarush buyers are just getting their permits.]

[** - Think it can't happen because of Heller? Bull. Constitutional restrictions cease to exist when the people don't force the government to abide by them. Our last few administrations should prove that to anybody.]


  1. I boggled at your statement that some towns don't allow you to combine the application for FID and pistol permit. It's the same freaking piece of paper with a check box for the FID and a space for the number of permits you want. Thankfully my town (while they did have the annoying 1 hr per day window for fingerprinting) didn't charge anything more than the statutory fee and the SBI fee (since the check had to be written to the SBI I knew it wasn't the town).

    I just bought a house, and there was a strong desire to stay in the same town because that way I wouldnt' have to start over from scrath (just do the address change). Thanksfully I found a nice place in town...

    And at athat, NJ is somewhat easier on gun owners than NYC

  2. Elmo,

    If ever you want to move to Texas, I'll provide room and board for house hunting trips.

    I knew it was bad in NJ, but I never knew how screwed up it was.

    I like to ask how reasonable those same restrictions would be if applied to other rights.
    How about sex? To reduce rapes - isn't it reasonable for people to get a permit?
    How about fraud? Before people speak, shouldn't they have a background check?
    Owning a computer? The mind boggles at the number of crimes that could be reduced.

    Great post & thanks for the link.

  3. Ian, I asked">Cemetery, and it turns out I've been unfair to Jersey City. Committed antis they may be, but it looks like they don't actually give people any hassle about getting FIDs and pistol permits in one shot. I _have_ heard of it happening, though, and we all know that one of Jersey's "little burdens" on gun rights is inconsistencies between jurisdictions. Some PDs make it as easy as they can--some pile on as many extra requirements as they can get away with.

    My town tried pretty hard not to add to the hassle (the officer who took my and my fiancee's prints actually chatted with us about places to shoot and decent places in the area to buy handguns), but for some reason they insisted we fill out the FID/PP form twice, with the FID box checked on one copy and the PP box checked on the other. Weird.

    Bob, to clearly illustrate the difference, look at abortion: The left is flipping out about an Oklahoma law that would collect _anonymous_ information about women seeking abortions. It's invasive, you see. But requiring a background check on your name which includes the model and serial number of the gun, a federally-mandated form that asks about your legal history and mental health and which is accessable by law enforcement, and public-record databases of CCW permit holders? _Those_ are reasonable, common-sense gun laws. And we need more like them.

    I'm still agog at the Healthcare Obamanation "debate" over abortion funding: evidently, once the Supreme Court finds that the Constitution protects your right to get something, it's a violation of your rights if somebody else refuses to buy it for you.

    I think I'll go pick up an M1A and send the bill to Planned Parenthood.

  4. Oh, and Bob, you have no idea how much I appreciate the offer, but I'd never talk the wimmins into moving that far from home. ;)

  5. Let's not forget that NJ gun owners can be, and are, part of the problem. The apathy is off the scale.

  6. Truf. Even the people whose business it is to _sell_ guns often seem to do everything in their power to discourage new shooters.