Sensible gun control

By Richard Allen Vinson
web posted May 22, 2000

Is it possible that "a million moms" and the National Rifle Association can be dead wrong in their prescriptions for "common sense" gun control? The "moms" want more laws which would make firearms ownership more expensive and cumbersome for all gun owners (particularly law abiding, peaceful folks), while the NRA is urging the President and Congress to "vigorously enforce existing laws." Unfortunately, when their respective proposals are scrutinized, the "moms" are revealed to be folks who substitute emotion for evidence, while the NRA are revealed to be folks who have adopted a clever position in terms of electoral politics that would be an expensive disaster if actually followed.

Both the "existing laws" that the NRA wants to enforce and the new proposals of the "moms" have one obvious flaw in common: they are not designed to hold the persons who cause harm to others liable for that harm without unfairly penalizing the responsible use of firearms. To illustrate this flaw, let's re-examine the fiasco at Ruby Ridge.

The excuse the Feds used for hunting down Randy Weaver and his family was that he was dealing in illegal firearms, since at a government agent's request he had sawed off a portion of the barrel of some shotguns and sold them to the government agent. When he failed to cooperate in the Feds' attempt to put him in prison for his "crime", he become one of the most sought after fugitives in the country, and when his dog barked at the agents hunting him down, they shot the dog, Weaver's son shot back, and when the shooting stopped Weaver's son and Weaver's wife were killed along with a federal agent.

Presumably, both the "moms" and the NRA agree that people who deal in sawed off shotguns (i.e. "gun felons") should be vigorously hunted down and brought to justice. Thus their arguments support the killing of the Weavers, though the "mom" and the NRA may be expected to backtrack a little in their arguments when faced with a real life (and death) situation in which the federal government "successfully" cracked down on a "gun toting felon". What the "moms" and the NRA fail to take into account is that government agents are just as fallible as any other human beings and cannot be counted on to carefully exercise their broad discretion to "vigorously enforce" a multitude of vague and often counterproductive laws, particularly when it is so easy for them to escape responsibility for their mistakes (even when they result in the death of innocent mothers and children like they did at Waco and Ruby Ridge).

Suppose, however, that a different law were to be in place, one which would simply require everyone to be responsible for any harm they initiate (i.e. cause without provocation) to the person or property of another. If this "simple law" (actually more of a principle of ethics than just a law) were to be adopted, what would have happened in the Weaver case? For one thing, the federal agents would not have been encouraging anyone to saw off shotguns, since any harm done by that shotgun would be the responsibility of the federal agents (as well as the person doing the sawing), and unless the shotgun were to do some harm, there would be no law to enforce with vigorous brutality.

On the other hand, if my simple law were to be adopted and someone were to be harmed by the unprovoked use of a firearm, the victim or his survivors would be entitled to recover full compensation for the harm done from (a) the shooter, (b) the gun manufacturer, and/or (c) anyone in whose hands the gun passed to get to the shooter. Keep in mind that the manufacturer and the former owners could protect themselves from liability for the harm caused by someone they sell a gun to by (1) contractually requiring the person the buyer to indemnify them for such harm and/or (2) obtaining insurance for any harm done by the buyer.

Note that my simple law would result in a situation in which the people who manufacture or deal in guns would help victims pursue shooters. Note also that no government agencies (with the possible exception of civil courts) would have to be created and funded by innocent taxpayers to enforce this one simple law. Note also that the Second Amendment would not have to be eroded in any way to enforce my simple law. And note also that all people who wish to own guns (including government agents) would be responsible for taking adequate precautions to prevent their accidental or otherwise unjustifiable use, while at the same time those who use guns responsibly for security, self-defense and sporting purposes would not have to worry about constantly being hassled by governmental busy bodies and bureaucrats.

In other words, if my simple law were to be adopted, gun safety would no longer be another failed socialist program but instead would be handled through individual responsibility and vigilance. Then the NRA could concentrate on voluntary gun safety programs instead of being an eternal lobbying machine, and millions of moms could go back to being attentive parents instead of looking to half-witted celebrities and political operatives for help in protecting their children. And everyone who is not responsible for "gun violence" would have more money in their pockets instead of wasting it on a bloated, bungling, brutal government.

Richard Allen Vinson is an attorney, founder of the Center for Responsible Freedom (CERF), and writer/producer of "Bill Clinton - Vast Bubba Cons", a 15 song parody CD of "Bob Dylan - At Budokan". This article originally appeared in the Cerfdom Weekly Commentary on

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