Stop trying to license constitutional rights

ArticleA Gun Nut’s Guide to Gun Control That Works: A federal license for possession of semi-automatic firearms could make Americans safer—and more free.

Self-described “gun industry insider” Jon Stokes penned an article for Politico expressing a simple idea: “federally issued license for simple possession of all semi-automatic firearms”. Not just semi-automatic rifles, which is the bane of all anti-gun advocates out there.

All semi-automatic firearms. This would basically mean needing a license to possess what most every gun owner already has: a semi-automatic pistol. Since every gun maker in the world makes them and there’s an enormous variety available.

This makes his scheme instantly unconstitutional given DC v. Heller, which asserted the individual right to keep and bear arms “in common use” – 554 US at 627.

While the author points out that the Assault Weapons Ban attempt is “emblematic of gun control proponents’ consistent failure to understand how gun technology and the gun market actually work in the 21st century”, the entire idea of a Federal license to possess the most common firearm classification in the world shows a misunderstanding of how rights are supposed to work.

The entire history of gun control in the United States is a slippery slope so tall it makes Mount Everest look like a pile of sand in a sandbox. So despite the initial limitation that it would apply to semi-automatic firearms – again, the most common classification of firearms in the world – it would eventually be applied to ALL firearms.

You cannot say honestly that it would not.

Currently there is no census of firearms owners as well. This licensing scheme would change that. While it wouldn’t create a gun registry, a gun owner registry is just as undesirable, and likely just as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment as it would be unconstitutional under the First to create a registry of or require licensure for journalists, or in any other way attempt to limit the legitimacy of certain types of media by definition of law.

You’re already in a ton of public and private databases that contain the most intimate details of your life. Everyone from Facebook to Google to Equifax to the Social Security Administration has a big, fat file on you.

This doesn’t justify the creation of yet another database of personal information. And it’s immaterial to the larger discussion.

Yes I’ve already got entries in numerous databases. There’s a big difference, though, between those systems and an ATF system that tracks firearm possession licenses. That is the singular objection that anyone proposing any similar idea must overcome, and the author fails to overcome it here. He instead just brings up the “well, so many other organizations already have your information”.

First private organizations may possess your information, but have severe limitations placed on how they can use that information under Federal and State laws and regulations.

And before the government can lawfully possess your information, they must have a legitimate reason for it. Like… taxation.

The Federal government has your information on file to enforce Federal taxation, in particular Federal income taxation. State tax authorities have that information for the same reason. That is why children are issued Social Security numbers from a very early age: that, or another tax authority identification number, are necessary to claim the child as a dependent to take advantage of certain tax deductions or credits, or claim certain other benefits under the law.

If you are a business owner, you know that you generally need a State sales tax permit as well. A permit to collect and remit State sales taxes. Imagine that! That permit, though, is actually a registration along with a tacit submission to the State’s audit authority as well. And that information is used to enforce taxation, specifically to make sure you are properly collecting sales taxes – the proper percentage, given State and local regulations, and on the proper items.

Your vehicle registration is the same way. So many anti-gun advocates talk about gun registration with “you have to register your car, too”. Yes, you register your car because you are required by State law to pay several classes of taxes on it, starting with property taxes. If the government was not taxing your vehicles, they’d have no reason to require registration.

That is why you receive a letter at the start of every calendar year from your county assessor’s office. And the same applies for marine craft, aircraft, and even livestock – if you’re in the business of raising and selling livestock, as opposed to merely owning a few horses, goats, etc., unconnected with any business operations. It’s also why there have been calls for property taxes on firearms and ammunition, as such would make firearm registration universal, despite the idea being unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, just as taxing paper and licensing journalists is unconstitutional under the First.

And public schools have information on the parents and attendant children for enforcement of the law. Education meeting certain minimum standards is mandatory in every State. So the government tracks certain information for proper enforcement of applicable laws, whether by public or private schooling or home schooling.

In other words the existence of car registration and other government databases of personal information isn’t in any way a limitation on any rights, but about proper exercise of a government’s legitimate powers such as, but not limited to, its taxing authority. Part of this includes a government database of those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors, since those convictions are used as the basis for limiting rights and privileges under the law.

You wouldn’t need a license to own lots and lots of guns of different types under this scheme, either. You would just need a license to own semi-autos, just like you need a license to broadcast over certain parts of the public airways.

Oh dear God, not this argument again.

I’ll set aside that this is merely another way of saying “Since the Second Amendment isn’t unlimited, we can pass any gun restrictions we want (short of an outright ban), and they’re all perfectly reasonable because your rights aren’t unlimited.”

First of all, there aren’t many “different types” of firearms either. You have rifles, shotguns, and pistols. Semi-automatic is the only classification spanning across all three. Rifles can also be bolt action, lever action, breech load (though uncommon), or muzzle load. Shotguns can also be breech-load or pump action. And pistols can be muzzle load, breech load (e.g. Derringers), or revolvers.

Semi-automatic firearms are, say it with me, the most common firearm classification in the world. This means you’re talking about requiring licensing for more than 90% of firearm owners in the United States. Again, this is unconstitutional given DC v. Heller.

And do you know why broadcast licenses are necessary?

First and foremost, it’s to regulate (in other words, “make regular”) the public airwaves and prevent multiple broadcasters on the same frequency in the same general area. Anyone who has tried to setup a WiFi access point in an apartment building knows the difficulty here, since you have a set number of channels on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band, so getting a reliable WiFi setup when you have apartments all around you also trying to use WiFi can be… interesting.

Imagine three broadcasters in an area – e.g. a country, pop, and hip-hop station – all trying to broadcast on the same frequency in your metro area. None would get through clearly unless you were close to an individual station’s broadcast antenna.

And part of that regulation is also about broadcast power. Your local radio and on-air television stations generate continuous high-power radio waves. Radio waves can generate interference with numerous devices. So the FCC regulates access to the public airwaves, and disallows use of certain radio frequencies, to minimize this interference to acceptable levels. Acceptable levels being that which electronics manufacturers can reasonably account for, control for, and protect against.

That is why you have the FCC Part 15 statement on virtually all electronic devices sold in the United States:

This device complies with part 15 of the FCC rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) This device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.

As an example of the kind of cross-talk interference that can occur, back during the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated the Duga radar, a high-power (10MW) missile-launch detection system that operated by sending out a pulse at 10Hz in the shortwave radio bands. It was nicknamed the Russian Woodpecker. Quoting Wikipedia:

The random frequency hops disrupted legitimate broadcasts, amateur radio operations, oceanic commercial aviation communications, utility transmissions, and resulted in thousands of complaints by many countries worldwide. The signal became such a nuisance that some receivers such as amateur radios and televisions actually began including ‘Woodpecker Blankers’ in their circuit designs in an effort to filter out the interference.

There was also a group who tried jam the Woodpecker, called the Russian Woodpecker Hunting Club. The Duga radar has not been operational in about three decades as of when I write this.

The license to broadcast on the public airwaves isn’t a limitation on your free speech rights. It’s more akin to regulating traffic on a road. Only there are a lot more lanes and you’re granted exclusive use of one of those lanes in a general area. And the license is merely one additional layer on top of a speech medium with significant barriers to entry – the cost of the broadcast equipment, and the cost of powering and operating it, any licensing and costs associated with content, etc.

Plus the broadcast license is about regulating the airwaves, not regulating what’s on the airwaves. Though the FCC has come under fire for attempting to and actually doing the latter by threatening the licenses or instituting fines against broadcasters for violating certain “decency standards” – e.g. the Janet Jackson “nipple slip” that became the inspiration for creating YouTube.

The First Amendment, and much of the Bill of Rights, was inspired by actions of King George III and the British Parliament, including the Stamp Act of 1765 which literally taxed paper. A license to possess semi-automatic firearms, again the most common firearms classification in the world, is akin to a license to purchase and possess paper, or a license to create and operate a blog or Facebook page. And attempts to ban certain firearms is akin to banning books or implementing and enforcing “obscenity” laws.

And it is that which those who continually try to propose licensing schemes for firearms must acknowledge. You are talking about turning a constitutional right into a government-licensed privilege. This was demonstrated with Illinois wherein the State of Illinois revoked Travis Reinking’s firearms ownership license merely at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No Court order, of which I’m aware. No due process. Just merely a request from Federal law enforcement and suddenly Reinking was an illegal firearm possessor under the law.

In other words, licensure becomes a “kill switch” on a right unless there are safeguards in place wherein the license can only be suspended or revoked by court order, and only in response to proper adjudication in a Court of Law per the Fourteenth Amendment. And all licenses must be issued on a “shall issue” basis unless the person has been properly adjudicated in such a away as to legitimately deny them their Second Amendment rights. Meaning Illinois’s firearm licensure laws are, themselves, unconstitutional.

Unfortunately not even concealed carry permits carry such protection in most States. For example several years ago, James Yeager released a video online in which, expressing his frustration at the political climate and proposed gun control ideas, he said he might “start killing people”. Not long after that video was released, the State of Tennessee suspended his concealed carry permit.

No due process. No Court order. Just an arbitrary action by the government.

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There is one objection the author does not address: the need to pay additional fees and navigate additional bureaucratic red tape to exercise a constitutional right. Along with the racial disparities in how laws are enforced. As has been pointed out time and time again, gun control laws are going to be disproportionately enforced against impoverished minorities for numerous reasons.

So taking on another level of fees to obtain a license to purchase and possess the most common firearm classification in the world will disproportionately affect minorities. Unlicensed possession of said firearms will likely be a felony, not a simple misdemeanor, meaning you risk locking more minorities up in jail on felony charges. Felony convictions come with numerous impairments both in law and society.

So this would basically set up a system that creates more crimes and criminals. That’s the opposite direction we should be going.

Plus as Elliot Rodger already showed, more gun control laws won’t stop mass shootings. Laws alone won’t stop mass shootings, as we saw with the Tennessee Waffle House shooting. Since laws don’t stop crimes from happening. Only prescribe consequences for said crimes after the fact, provided those crimes can be demonstrated to have occurred beyond reasonable doubt in a Court of Law.

Which is why it’s laughable that in response to an anti-gun objection to his proposal:

OK, but if we don’t have a gun registry and we do away with FFL transfers for license holders, then what’s to stop a license holder from selling a gun to a non-license holder?

he responded with this:

The law is what will stop them. As gun controllers are always fond of reminding people like me, criminalization is a deterrent.

It isn’t the deterrent it needs to be in order for such laws to be effective.

Most gun crimes are committed by one particular racial demographic in the United States. Yet gun control is only proposed when people – particularly children – of another demographic are targeted. So in many ways, the issue is very black and white, respectively.

Plus the continuous demand for more gun laws is tacit admission that all the other laws we currently have on the books – and there are a lot of them – haven’t done jack for violent crime, homicide, and suicide in the United States. And they largely have not, will not, and cannot.

I’ve shown that gun laws are not correlated with violent crimes. That looser gun laws doesn’t mean more violent crime, and it doesn’t mean less violent crime in general either. Same with that stronger gun laws don’t net less violent crime. But there is an exception wherein looser gun laws do mean less robberies in metropolitan areas. And stronger gun laws do not translate into lower suicide rates.

So this whole licensure idea, like the ideas of requiring gun owners have liability insurance, is just another idea intended on throwing more fees and bureaucratic red tape in front of the Second Amendment. And it will ultimately not do anything to curtail violent crime in the United States.