Everything I know about gun law, I learned from dog law. Some people believe that laws can solve everything -- that it’s just a matter of writing the perfect set of requirements. Then everyone will comply -- of course they will. So in 1977-78 Multnomah County Animal Control, guided by an excellent and involved lawyer, organized a citizen committee to write the perfect animal control law. I was the AC education coordinator and researcher. What we discovered was some basic principles about writing laws, which I will now consider in terms of gun control.
Never try to write a law that cannot be enforced. If the people do not believe in the purpose of the law, they simply won’t obey it. This is the lesson of Prohibition, illegal drugs, and illegal immigration. If the underlying belief systems, ecological embeddedness, and economic gradients are not addressed, a law will only drive things underground. No amount of enforcers, no draconian penalties, no invasive inspections or exhaustive databases, no intermittent atrocities and massacres, no illusions that there are exceptions or places of safety will have any impact.
Guns are beautiful, valuable, emotionally powerful, symbols of safety (even to those who can’t operate them safely), historical, and investment opportunities. Everyone wants gun laws -- but only for the other guy. The fondness for ammo could probably be broken, especially the kinds that are armor-penetrating and so on. Still, when the local Connecticut jurisdiction where Sandy Hook School is located asked for tightened gun laws, they were vehemently rejected.
Our culture has an enormous fixation on explosions. When journalists looking for gun incidents asked to see the police complaint records for the last year, what they found instead was many, many complaints about explosions due to tannerite targets. These are rigged to explode when the target is hit. On YouTube are many vids of shooting these targets (it takes a high-powered rifle to set them off), directions for making them with cheap homemade ingredients the same as meth labs, and demonstrations of how much it takes to cause a really big explosion. The complaints stated that the explosions were close to houses, that they were accompanied by high-powered, semi-automatic gunfire, and that they happened often. Few culprits were caught.
While everyone is obsessing about gun ownership, the culture has moved on to far more extreme preoccupations. We are hooked on violence. People say it all the time. No law can break this connection. We are an IED nation. A Predator nation.
Let’s back off to guns again. First, there needs to be a clear edge between those obeying and those NOT obeying. Unless a law flatly states no gun of any kind, there is no dependable way to specify that one gun with a specific feature -- like big magazines or automatic firing -- is forbidden but another is not. The gun can be altered. It will not STAY inside the definition. But some guns are justified and necessary: law enforcement, hunting, valuable collections, heirlooms -- by the time the exceptions are specified, the category is lost.
It’s difficult-to-impossible to determine whether a person is carrying or not without personal searching or at least a metal detector. Commerce depends on efficient flow -- people need to move in and out of buildings quickly, the same as they need to get on and off airplanes quickly. Metal detectors means that plastic guns have been developed. It’s impossible to prevent the flow of guns in and out of jurisdictions. Forbidding them in one place simply creates a gradient of value that motivates the transport of them, as we recently saw with the Mexican border. Pistols are small (pocket-sized), cheap, easily transported, sexy as cigarettes.
The second amendment needs a good turning-out. Here’s the iconoclast Nassim Taleb speaking:
“I cannot possibly buy the argument that people need weapons in case the government fails them and democracy breaks down. If the narrative were true, someone over the past 5 years would have taken arms to express frustration with the banking establishment hijacking the political system for self-enrichment --one of the greatest iniquities ever, ever -- and other similar lobbyists, instead of using weapons against schoolchildren and college students. . . . Via Negativa: gun control is perhaps one of the very few things the government should do.”
But we don’t trust our government. I was in Browning, Montana, in the Sixties. Do you think that Indians who had been literal targets for the U.S. Cavalry less than a century earlier should trust the government? The same government that is now returning a fraction of the Indian money everyone admits they lost? But in that decade it was NOT the tribe that constantly worried about war. It was white people who were forming militias and burying semi-automatic rifles in case of the revolution. In those days even high-level politicians wore cufflinks indicating they belonged to the Minuteman organization. There was a lot of talk about the Posse Commitatus. The conviction was that the Russians would send missiles with nuclear bombs into the cities and then the city folks -- the people whom locals really feared and distrusted -- would storm the countryside, looking for places to hide and for food. Check out our dystopic movies.
And listen to the people who are beginning to say that the real division in America is not so much between rich and poor as it is between urban (where the ghettoes and the law-makers both live) and the rural. You could hear this in the local rhetoric about what the oil boom will do to us. In this little village of a few hundred people, I’m told that almost everyone has a gun permit.
We were told in the Sixties that the government had a list of all the guns registered which they would use to impound weapons house-to-house. Much easier now. Even if gun shows and private sales manage to evade background checks, the government can go online with the social site databases and probably list every gun owner -- at least any making online gun-related purchases -- in an hour. Lanza was deluded to think destroying his computer hard-drive would preserve his secrecy. He had not thought about the Cloud, the ISP records, the endless archives.
At Animal Control our single most valuable tool was a little room where several women kept all the dog licensing records -- not because we wanted to impound the dogs, but because they were proof of rabies vaccinations. These spared children from shots and spared dogs from having their heads cut off for autopsy. It was tedious work -- today I’m sure it’s on a computer. And a lot of dogs are microchipped. Guns are numbered, but that’s easy to file off. Are any of them microchipped? GPS? What if every semi-automatic “combat” rifle were GPS locate-able? They say the tires on new cars have computer broadcast capacity to 130 feet. (Normally they tell the main vehicle computer about inflation, but can have code added.)
We’re told group massacres of inoffensive people -- children, movie goers, church members, and the one that hurts me the most (oh, how offensive it is to even consider comparisons) the Amish girls who were lined up and shot -- are not predictable but statistically recurring at a steady rate. It’s not the guns -- it’s the culture. And the culture in the US is shifting towards terrorism. Already there, actually. Al Queda is just us in a fun-house mirror.