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Needed: Domestic Disarmament, Not 'Gun Control'

12/07/2015 11:45 am ET | Updated Dec 07, 2015
  • Amitai Etzioni Professor of international relations, George Washington University
Scott Olson via Getty Images

In response to the almost daily mass shootings in the United States -- which could be expected to rise now that they are also promoted by ISIS -- good progressive persons are calling for some measure of gun control. They may well know, in their heart of hearts, that even if these measures are enacted, they will do little to reduce gun violence.

Universal background checks of gun buyers is a fine idea, but of limited value in a nation in which citizens already own 250 million guns, more than one for every adult. Providing more mental health treatment is always a good idea. But if you believe that one can tell which mental patients will resort to mass shootings, and that most of these can be stopped by therapists, there are several bridges in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

Slowing the speed by which magazines can be reloaded (by requiring a tool to reload) would help, but gun manufacturers already found a way to circumvent this regulation -- by declaring that a bottom on the gun is a tool.

"It is at best naïve, sometimes disingenuous, to imply that if several gun control measure would be enacted -- and somehow enforced -- the U.S. would gain what these other nations take for granted."

Good progressive people may well respond that they must start with small, incremental measures, because the really big, effective ones do not have a prayer. But neither do the tiny ones, at least on the national level. The NRA will not yield an inch.

One needs no better evidence than to note that Congress just refused to ban people on the no-fly list, those strongly suspected of being terrorists, from buying guns legally in the U.S.! Moreover, the NRA is moving the needle in the opposite direction, getting more and more states to allow people to carry concealed weapons, in more and more places.

Most progressives seem unaware that whatever laws are finally enacted will have very little effect because the NRA and its allies in Congress have found powerful ways to prevent their enforcement. The Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 bans the ATF from inspecting gun dealers more than once in any 12-month period, even if violations are uncovered, and it reduces record-keeping violations from a felony to a misdemeanor offense, the result being that gun dealers are very rarely prosecuted.

The 2003 and 2004 Tiahrt amendments, named for their sponsor Rep. Todd Tiahrt, require that records from the background checks of gun buyers be destroyed within 24 hours, bar requiring gun dealers to conduct inventory checks to monitor gun thefts, and prevent crime gun trace data from being used in court, even when a dealer has broken the law. In addition, Congress has barred the ATF repeatedly from creating a computerized database, so when a gun is recovered at a crime scene, agents must manually search through boxes of paper records to trace the firearm to dealer or purchaser.

Advocates of gun control frequently cite the much lower levels of gun violence in other developed nations -- such as Canada and the UK -- in support of the measures they promote. However, these very low levels of gun violence have not been achieved by gun control but -- by domestic disarmament.

"Make the gun manufacturers liable for harm done with their products. Ban the sale of ammunition. And vote for a president that will add to the Supreme Court those who will read the Second Amendment as written."

Most people have no guns in these fully democratic nations and have no way of getting them, legally or otherwise. It is hence at best naïve, sometimes disingenuous, to imply that if several gun control measure would be enacted -- and somehow enforced -- the U.S. would gain what these other nations take for granted. (By the way, Black Lives Matters may wish to take note: In these blessed nations most cops, most of the time, have no guns either.)

Given that even micro gun control measures will be effectively blocked by the NRA and its allies, and that promoting mini measures as potentially effective is misleading, progressives may as well go for the big enchilada: Call for domestic disarmament.

One may say that the Supreme Court, after 250 years in which the Second Amendment was read as allowing only a well-regulated militia to have guns, recently reinterpreted it to mean that there is an individualized right to own guns. This suggests that we may have to get to domestic disarmament through the back door.

Make the gun manufacturers liable for harm done with their products. Ban the sale of ammunition. And vote for a president that will add to the Supreme Court those who will read the Second Amendment as written.

Above all, domestic disarmament is a true, compelling vision which cannot be said about the small gun control measures that are currently promoted by some of the most enlightened people among us.

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Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. His latest book, Privacy in a Cyber Age, was recently published by Palgrave. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, send an e-mail with the subject line "Subscribe" to icps@gwu.edu.

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