Confiscating automatic weapons, eh?
I won’t dwell on trivialities such as the difference between “automatic” and “semi-automatic” because it’s silly.
Let’s focus instead on this all-too-common fantasy that a.) such a confiscation would reduce mass killings and b.) confiscation is even possible.
There is no reason to believe that gun regulation would have any impact on either the frequency or severity of mass killings. That’s the problem with gun control mantras: they focus on gun-related deaths rather than all deaths. For that reason, I want to be absolutely clear that our real focus should be on preventing the deaths associated with violence. After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, only about 6% of all violence-related non-fatal and fatal injuries were the result of gunshots. This includes injuries from assault, sexual assault, manslaughter, non-negligent manslaughter and homicide.
Onto the possibility of a gun ban being possible. In a word, no it’s not.
The Australian buyback/confiscation program is widely touted as a success. In reality, there were two buybacks, one following the Port Arthur massacre; the other following additional restrictions. By the Australian government’s own figures, the program was able to collect about 78% of the banned firearms, leaving an estimated 260,000 in circulation. Using the same percentage benchmark in the U.S. on an average of the estimated number of guns in private possession, we come up with 74,250,000 guns still in circulation. Limit the ban to “automatic” firearms? Using a very conservative estimate that 40% of privately owned guns fall into that category, we have 29,700,000 guns floating around.
There are an estimated 20 million guns that would be banned under the proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2018. Get 78% and still have 4.4 million. But there’s a kicker: under the AWB of 2018, all of those guns would still be legal to possess. The only thing the ban does is eliminate the sale of new guns of this type and prohibit the transfer of the grandfathered guns. Of course, since the government has no idea of where the vast majority of those guns are or who owns them, the ban is essentially worthless.
Moreover, the bill for such a ban would be huge. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the taking of property without just compensation: you can’t just confiscate it. U.S. courts have long held that “just compensation” is fair market value. The Australian government had to add a temporary tax to cover the cost of the first buyback and the amount required for a similar program in the U.S. would easily run into the tens of billions of dollars.
Then there’s the issue of compliance. Or more precisely, the lack of compliance.
In 2013, New York state passed the SAFE Act. Under the new law, owners of certain types of firearms were required to register then with the New York State Police by 2014.
In 2016, after losing a court battle over a FOIA request, the NYSP released registration data. Depending on who you ask, estimates of the number of such firearms ranged from roughly 300,000 to about a million. After two years, about 44,000 guns had been registered. So the state reported a compliance rate of less than 15% at most. That’s in a state with a low history of gun regulation and compliance.
What do you think the rate would be in Idaho? Georgia? Texas? Texas has a state law prohibiting it from confiscating firearms under any circumstances.
Oh, but you say, we’ll have the police confiscate them. What police? Other than in a handful of states, you’ll be lucky to have any law enforcement resources at all. Some county sheriffs are refusing to enforce some current laws, including the New York state SAFE Act. They regard it as illegal and unconstitutional.
How about federal agents? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has 2,623 agents. The FBI has 13,667 agents. Assuming that none of the quit over being ordered to confiscate guns in direct conflict with the Constitution, they will face a Herculean task of trying to find hundreds of millions of guns. There wouldn’t be any resources to devote to any other task for at least several years.
The majority of U.S. states to not require a permit to own a firearm or require registration of firearms. Arizona law prohibits the establishment of a state firearm registry and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 prohibits the creation of a federal registry of either guns or gun owners.
This means that there is no record of who owns probably more than 200 million guns or where they might be. There are more than 126 million U.S. households and somewhere between 32% and 42% have one or more guns. But the government doesn’t know which ones.
Contrary to your statement that this would lead to a reduction in violence, a federal effort to confiscate guns would most likely lead to resistance and more violence than we already have. Remember how well Prohibition worked out.
Yes, “gun confiscation” does trip off the tongue quite easily. So does “unicorn.”