Jan 072013
 

Owen Courreges

In last week’s column I discussed the assault weapons ban being bandied about by local politicians and activist groups, concluding that the term “assault weapon” is vague, ill-defined, and does not refer to characteristics of firearms that have any significant impact on the danger they pose. Nothing has changed my mind about that.

However, the agenda we’re seeing with respect to guns goes further than just the assault weapons ban.  A couple of weeks ago, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking for “renewed scrutiny” of gun control laws.  Although the resolution’s unspecific language may sound like non-committal pabulum (and it certainly is that), the resolution was generally received as being a call for more gun control.

District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who introduced the resolution, subsequently removed all doubt by calling on government officials at all levels to “really take a stand against guns throughout our country” in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

In the New Orleans area, however, people seem to be embracing guns rather than taking a stand against them.  At the New Orleans Gun Show held in Kenner last month, sales were up and attendance was estimated to be approximately 1,000 higher from a year ago. According to the Atlantic Monthly, the most popular weapon sold was the AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle first introduced in 1963 as the civilian model of the M-16.

Alas, the latest word from the White House isn’t going to calm those frantically purchasing guns.

The executive is certainly giving “renewed scrutiny” to gun laws.  Aside from a new, stricter assault weapons ban, a “working group” led by Vice President Biden has been debating sundry measures such universal background checks (essentially banning private sales or transfers of firearms) and increased penalties for carrying guns near schools (already a felony under federal law).

The former measure relates to the so-called “gun show loophole,” but it should be called the “private sale” loophole.  Everyone in the business of buying and selling firearms must have an FFL, and all transactions that go through an FFL (or are required to go through an FFL, like an interstate sale) require a background check. Thus, if you aren’t a gun dealer and you’re selling a gun to somebody who lives in your state, a background check is generally not required.

Private sales can occur at gun shows, but they aren’t the norm there.  The dealers who actually rent booths at gun shows and sell modern firearms are obviously dealers; they are required to have an FFL and perform background checks on all buyers.

On the other hand, if I sell or transfer a gun to a friend or family member, as is usually the case with private sales, I don’t have to perform a background check or run the transaction through a third party that holds an FFL (which is not cheap).  This is an exception to the general rule requiring background checks, but it’s also natural one.  These are transactions where the federal interest is minimal and the government, as a practical matter, has little ability to regulate.

But the worst part is that Biden’s group is also proposing a national firearms registry, so that the government would have a database of information on every legal gun owner in the country.  Many are unsettled by the idea that the government would keep track of every person in America exercising a specific constitutional right.

What’s even worse is the notion that we need to have stricter penalties for carrying a firearm in areas schools, a.k.a. “gun free school zones.”  These zones extend 1,000 feet from a school, or roughly two or three city blocks (depending on the city) in every direction.  To see just how onerous this is, I made crude a map of my part of Uptown.  The large red dots represent the approximate boundaries of gun free zones (smaller, actually, because I measured from the center of each school rather than from the outer boundary of school grounds).  My house is in one.

(Map by Owen Courreges for UptownMessenger.com)

The federal exceptions are minimal. The gun free zone law defers to state regulations for handgun permit holders but completely ignores all other state-level protections.  For example, carrying in a motor vehicle is generally prohibited, even though Louisiana considers this to be a “constitutionally-protected activity” in exactly the same context.

There’s also no good-faith exception.  This is a problem because gun free zones take up huge swaths of urban areas and a violation, even an inadvertent one, is already a felony.  Thus, Biden’s “working group” is debating whether to take a law that is grossly overbroad and ramp its already-severe penalties up to higher levels.

I always look at these types of laws and imagine them in the context of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. I imagine somebody who clearly violates the law in question, but commits no serious wrong and nevertheless faces draconian penalties and persecution.

Here, I imagine a guy who gets a call from a close female friend (or family member) with an abusive boyfriend who, due to specific threats, wants a gun to defend herself immediately.  He offers to sell her one of his guns at less than cost, but forgets about that pesky new “universal background check” requirement that applies to non-dealers.  To make matters worse, he drives to her house with the gun unlocked in the glove box, and although he never gets closer than a block to any school (none of which are in session) he unknowingly passes through several gun free zones.

Under these proposed reforms, that narrative would encompass two serious felonies.  All it would take is an overzealous ATF (cough, Waco!, cough) and a federal prosecutor akin to Inspector Javert to put this nice fellow away for a very long time.  Oh, and federal crimes cannot be expunged, so these crimes would follow him around forever – unless he pulled a Jean Valjean and assumed a new identity, which is increasingly difficult these days.

The larger the web of federal gun laws becomes, combined with fewer exceptions and stricter penalties, the greater the potential of having peoples’ lives ruined for completely innocent acts or worse, for exercising a constitutional right.  If you want to know why gun owners are apprehensive, this is the reason.

There should be reasonable regulations on firearms, but the proposals I’m seeing are not “taking a stand against guns.”  Rather, they are taking a stand against gun owners, feeding their worst fears.  If these efforts bear fruit, our already poorly-written federal gun laws will become more arbitrary and overbroad.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

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  • Michel Charbonet

    Owen:

    Great article !

    • Michel Charbonet

      Gee Owen:

      You certainly upset the uninformed. Yes there was a run on AR’s and also ammo, not because of “adoration of gun ownership” but because sensible people know that law enforcement cannot protect them. Where was NOPD during the “carjacking” yesterday ? Again no description of the perps……Sad

      • Terrence O’Brien

        You think an assault rifle would have helped this lady?

        • http://twitter.com/miriambernstein miriambernstein

          the announcement today by Gabby Giffords and her husband, both of whom own guns, that they will raise enough money to stand up to the NRA is a welcome one. We need a discussion in this country with out being bullied and threatened by the gun lobby.

          • Terrence O’Brien

            The NRA and allies like Owen like to pretend that everyone who disagrees with them is “anti-gun” or wants to repeal the Second Amendment, and is headed to their home to confiscate their guns, They contend that the very topic of possible changes in gun laws is taboo. We need more responsible gun owners to lead a reasoned discussion of what is appropriate. Giffords and her astronaut husband may be the ones to do. We know her blood is red, we saw it.

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            I don’t think the topic is taboo or I wouldn’t be discussing it. I just think the “reforms” currently being debated, including those being pushed by Giffords, will make bad law into worse law. That said, some of these proposals (at least those at the state level) are at least plausibly constitutional, even if I think they are bad policy, and a big area that I believe the (federal) Second Amendment does not cover is the carrying of concealed firearms, so state-level restrictions are a pure policy debate.

            I also don’t necessarily agree with everything the NRA says. For example, citing “violent video games” as leading to spree killings is stupid, contradicts their appeals to individual responsibility, and, frankly, makes it sound like the NRA values the Second Amendment but could not care less about he First.

          • Terrence O’Brien

            Glad you have an open mind. Too many people seem to think it is gun owners, lovers of the Constitution, and patriots against the barbarians. There are many gun owners, lovers of the Constitution, and patriots who want to consider whether there are avenues to improve the systems of gun regulation we have. Your column seems to have a strident tone that really is unhelpful.

  • http://twitter.com/miriambernstein miriambernstein

    So, a female in an abusive relationship should buy a gun privately as an answer to her problems and the person she buys it from is her knight in shining armor dashing to her house to hand her this gun – really? That is what gun owners are concerned with? This is exactly why we need further regulations as that friend should provide this women with shelter, options and not a gun…

    • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

      miriam,

      It’s just a likely scenario that could arise where the activities involved are innocent. A friend selling a friend a gun who urgently needs it for their protection should not be subject to serious federal charges. You are correct that battered women’s shelters are also options in those cases, but not everyone is comfortable going to one, and you can’t hide in a shelter forever. Moreover, the police are often indifferent regarding complaints that merely involve threats. Surely you could understand why somebody might want a gun to defend themselves, and why the circumstances would arise where going through an FFL holder would be difficult or impossible (not to mention more expensive).

      But if you’re comfortable with laws that make felons out of people in those exact circumstances simply because you think there are better options, then by all means, go ahead preaching that. I still think that’s unreasonable and cruel.

      • RalphAdamo

        OC’s imagination runs wild, but only in the direction of “a friend selling a friend a gun who urgently needs it for their protection.” Yet another ludicrous example, unless OC’s friends are themselves involved in illegal activities. And even then, their wielding guns will almost certainly result in more gun deaths,which is the one thing OC can’t seem to imagine. Guns kill people; people who aren’t shooting guns can’t kill people with those guns. Fewer guns equals fewer gun deaths. And anyway,who is OC working for here? Sounds like a man working for the gun lobby. If so, some disclosure please.

        • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

          A person can urgently need to protect themselves without being involved in anything illegal. And gun deaths aren’t the issue; it’s violent deaths in general and crime. A person killed or injured through criminal activity isn’t going to care if the instrument used was a gun.

          And no, I don’t work for the “gun lobby” and never have.

          • RalphAdamo

            Persons “urgently” needing to protect themselves are not likely to have time to negotiate a price and take delivery of a weapon, are they? Perhaps better they should call the police. Anyway, living in the state with the laxest gun laws has had the obvious result of making us the gun-death capital of a very violent country.Props all around, and especially to you,working for guns so diligently and without even being paid.

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            Sure, somebody who needs a gun urgently can call a friend and ask to buy one of theirs. That wouldn’t take a great deal of time. And in those types of cases, where a person not immediately present has made threats, the police are often indifferent. In any case, regardless of whether there might be other options, the fact is that it encompasses actions that are by themselves fairly innocent and turns them into felonies. That’s the problem.

            I don’t see a strong connection between the strength of gun laws and violent crime (again, I could care less what weapon is used; the issue is the crime). And so long as there are those that want to strip away essentially liberty in the name of safety, I’ll be working against them.

          • RalphAdamo

            I also do not agree that gun deaths aren’t the issue. While there are plenty of other issues, THE issue of the moment,and for a long time now, IS death by gun. Without gun deaths, violent death in America drops by — we are told — 87 per day. How is that not the issue,or the major component of the violent crime problem?.

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            Even in the absence of a guns, people can still obviously be victims of violent crime. It’s the crime that’s bad, not the fact that a gun was used. The U.K. has banned handguns and their violent crime rate is through the roof.

    • jexni

      It was an example, perhaps not the best one but only an example. To suggest that example is exactly why we need further regulations is more ludicrous than the example you mocked. But be that as it may, perhaps the notional woman has shelter and no desire to leave her domicile, perhaps she wants no other option than the right to defend herself in her home. Why do people like you think you know what is best for this notional woman?

  • Terrence O’Brien

    Hysterical. I don’t know if you write your own headlines, but a proposed law is not a “crackdown.” I don’t know how one could crackdown on the law abiding.

    • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

      I don’t, but the basic idea is that the proposed laws would amount to a crackdown on otherwise law-abiding gun owners for innocent activities. I don’t for a minute think these laws are (or would be) enforceable, unless the ATF is essentially bulked up into a massive federal police force or the federal government starts trying to force localities to enforce or adopt federal gun laws. However, stricter laws like those proposed just give the federal government even more opportunity to cherry pick people for prosecution, which is enough of a problem already.

      • Terrence O’Brien

        Who got cherry picked? If you’re going to devote your columns to gun issues, perhaps you can address whether the adoration of gun ownership shown by some is really what we want. As a person who values the right to bear arms, I find the current situation to be rather sick. You point to the run on AR-15s with a touch of pride, and suggest, without a scintilla of evidence, that this is prompted by a fear of regulation. I think it is more related to the press it received, and the perceived cache in owning a notorious weapon used to murder innocents. The only thing more likely to increase sales would be for Clint Eastwood to endorse it while threatening to blow someone’s head off.

        • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

          I frankly don’t care whether people adore guns or not; it’s not sick to be a gun collector. However, you’re correct that it is not clear why there was a run on the AR-15 and its variants. I personally think the fear of new assault weapons ban was a large part of it, although you might be right that much of it was also driven by its morbid notoriety. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; both factors were probably in play.

          When I talk about cherry-picking, I’m talking about federal laws so easy to violate that prosecutors essentially have their choice of defendants. Federal gun laws are rife with that.

  • will_k2

    The weapons used in Newton, Aurora, Columbine, and Blacksburg were all legally purchased and held by “law abiding gun owners.” Obviously, the laws that are being abided are insufficient to prevent this kind of massacre. These are simply facts. You can look at these and decide either:
    - We should seek to amend the laws to prevent this, or
    - The occasional massacre of schoolchildren is an acceptable price to pay

    Obviously Mr. Courreges believes the latter.

    • Terrence O’Brien

      As an attorney, Owen might explain that an “illegal sale” is virtually an oxymoron. Virtually all guns start out as legal, although I guess there might be some whose very existence is illegal. People like Owen who are overly enamored with guns encourage their over production and sale, with the inevitable result that there are too many people who legally own them but who shouldn’t, making their eventual illegal possession by others too common.

    • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

      I don’t think we can amend laws in such a way as to prevent this, and even if we could, those laws would restrict liberty simply to avert incidents that are uncommon (you’re more likely to be struck by lightening than die in a mass shooting).

      With respect to Newton, I would note that the guns used were legally purchased by another person — the shooter stole them.

      • Terrence O’Brien

        Everyone noted that the guns were purchased legally, but I’m not sure if the shooter stole them, They were his mother’s, and he may have had permission to use them. I’ve been hoping to read more about the mother and her interest in guns, Perhaps it’s sexism on my part, but she seems to have been an inappropriate accumulator of guns, especially living with a troubled adolescent in an upscale, relatively crime free community. As for lightning risks, they don’t appear to be changing the way mass shooting risks are.

      • will_k2

        “those laws would restrict liberty simply to avert incidents that are uncommon”

        I think you’re agreeing with me here, right? What you are calling “incidents that are uncommon” are in fact massacres of schoolchildren. Basically you see this as an acceptable price to pay for your liberty to purchase whatever kinds of guns you think are cool.

        • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

          will_k2,

          Can you not read?

          I’m saying, first and foremost, that I don’t believe the laws proposed would be effective at reducing these types of killings. Period. Read that again; you ignored it the first time.

          Secondly, I’m saying that even if these laws could reduce the number of spree killings (which I deny, again), they would involve a substantial costs, the benefits of which in terms of our murder rate which would be very, very slight. These costs would include making felons out of many people who have no intention of putting anybody at risk. We could put those resources to far better use.

          • will_k2

            Owen, my reading comprehensions is just fine; failure to respond every one of your points is indicative of succinctness rather than illiteracy. Judging by your rambling, unedited original piece I can see that the value of conciseness is not something that you’re familiar with, but that hardly merits an assumption of incompetence. To invite dialogue and then attack those who express differing opinions is pathetic and obnoxious. Get over yourself, tough guy.

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            will_k2,

            You selectively quoted me in a blatantly misleading way and then asked sarcastically “I think you’re agreeing with me here, right?” It wasn’t a matter of responding to multiple points or being concise; your comment simply mischaracterized my position.

            If there is no problem with your reading comprehension, then you’re just plain dishonest. I was at least giving you the benefit of the doubt, but if that’s the way you want it, fine. You’re clearly a troll, and I won’t feed you further.

          • will_k2

            Please. If you feel that my comment mischaracterized your position you could respond to that substantively. Trying to retroactively paint your “can you not read” comment as somehow charitable on your part is laughably transparent.

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            will_k2,

            I offered a substantial explanation above, noting that you ignored my actual position in favor of a hypothetical position made for the purposes of argument only.

            Again, you are a troll.

          • will_k2

            I thought you were no longer going to reply to me? Having some self-control issues with not getting the last word?

    • Michel Charbonet

      Dear will k2;

      Assuming we need a new law ( or amended law ) to protect schools, what do you suggest ?

      1.) Make it illegal to shoot up schools (already illegal);

      2.) Do a weapons grab as in the UK ( you really need to check the facts there & see why the police are now armed) By the way, just left there 10 days ago….my mother is English) ;

      3.) Please tell me on one law, if passed, that would have prevented the event you complain of;

      4.) By the way, are you aware of how many people have been killed in this town since Saturday ( are their lives less important ?);

      5.) Would suggest they “broke the law also”, thus for any law to work, it must be obeyed, sorta simple;

      6.) No one complaining about 500 dead in Chicago ?; ( Is this acceptable ?) Ever one of these murders were illegal, thus against the law);

      Thus use some logic. Again, bet you have never fired a weapon.

      • will_k2

        MIchel, I would tell you to go check the laws in the Australia and see what they have done to mass shootings there. I have at no point advocated for complete gun control nor have I advocated for any type of gun controls being effective in reducing the overall murder rate. So let’s not go off in four different directions. I do advocate for the potential efficacy of gun controls in reducing mass shootings because we know of at least one example where that has demonstrably worked.

        As to your final point, I have in fact fired many weapons – I grew up in south Alabama, for chrissakes – but that hardly makes me more or less able to comprehend a debate on gun control. The same applies to you.

        • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

          will_k2,

          The problem with using Australia as an example is that deaths from mass shootings are hideously uncommon generally. It is literally a risk on par with being struck by lightening, and the number of shootings vacillates greatly from year to year. Thus, any analysis will be using a very limited number of data points. Just one major mass shooting, like the killing of 77 in Norway in 2011, can completely skew the statistics (by comparison, 2011 was a low year in the US, with only 19 deaths from mass shootings). You’re working off of very weak data from a much smaller country.

          You’re also advocating broad-based policy changes based not upon reducing the overall murder rate, but a select, small fraction of murders — less than 1% of them. I don’t see how you can predict the impact on that small fraction from public policy affecting the entire population.

          • will_k2

            Didn’t you declare me a troll and insist you were no longer going to respond to me an hour prior to this?

          • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

            You’re still acting like a troll, but I decided that at least this comment of yours raised a serious issue worthy of response.

          • will_k2

            I am so, so honored by your using your almighty power of determinign what constitutes a “serious issue” to deem my comment here worthy. Your repeated name-calling would perhaps carry a bit more weight if you had the ability to follow through on your principled postion of not responding to me. You’ll note that I’m haing no problems continuing a civil discussion with Mr. Charbonnet. That would be because he as refrained from asking me if I am illiterate, name calling, etc. You know, civil discourse. Clearly you’re not personally familiar with that, but I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

        • Michel Charbonet

          Dear will:

          Suggest you review Australia, compare the situation before and after, the reaction of the Citizens, ect.

          Australia is not the U.S. and the results, if any are not comparable. Actually crime in the U.S. is in decline or so the FBI says.

          As to actual results check this press report:

          For immediate release 31 August 2010

          Prevention, not gun buy-backs, key to suicide reduction

          The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA National) Inc believes better suicide prevention and awareness programs are the
          main drivers behind a reduction in Australia’s suicide rate, not costly gun buy-backs as suggested by a recent report.

          The Do Gun Buybacks Save Lives? report released by Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill this week fails to recognise firearm owners replacing the majority of the 660,000 firearms seized in the gun buy-backs.

          A survey of SSAA members indicated that 93% of those who were forced to surrender a firearm during the buy-backs replaced it with one or more firearms almost immediately.

          SSAA National Special Project Officer Matthew Godson says that it is naive to assume the buy-backs reduced the overall number of
          legally-held firearms in the community by the amount seized.

          The report states that the buy-backs resulted in a direct reduction to suicide by firearm by 74%. However, it neglects to recognise that substitution of the method used to carry out suicide deaths exists.

          Raw data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that while suicide by firearms is continuing to decrease from a high in the 1980s, suicide by hanging steadily increased throughout the 1990s and increased for three consecutive years after the 1996 buy-back.

          An independent report released in 2008 by Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi from The University of Melbourne, says “there is little
          evidence to suggest that the buy-back had any significant effects on firearm homicides and suicides”. The pair reviewed almost 90 years of
          ABS data when making their conclusions, while Leigh and Neill chose to analyse two five-year periods either side of the 1996 buy-back.

          SSAA National urges media to sensitively approach the reporting of suicide and homicide issues and provide the details of relevant help
          lines and support services.

          For national-based SSAA queries, contact SSAA National Special Project Officer Matthew Godson on 0448 887 079 or spoh@ssaa.org.au

          • will_k2

            Again, Michel I am not advocating that Australian-style gun controls will reduce crime overall, or that they will reduce suicides. Only that they will reduce mass shootings. So I think you are arguing points that I am not making.

            They had experienced 11 mass shootings in the decade prior to enacting their gun controls. In the nearly two decades since, they have experienced zero. Even with small sample sizes there is no problem finding statistically significant correlations if the effect is extreme enough.

  • Rob Graham

    Owen,

    Louisiana law allows exceptions to the 1,000 foot rule around schools – namely, in a vehicle or in a residence. Two scenarios for which I have not found answers are 1) carrying from your car to your residence within 1,000 feet and walking past a school with a legally carried concealed weapon.

    Perhaps you can look into these and let us know.

    Thanks,

    Rob

    • http://twitter.com/Owen_Courreges Owen Courrèges

      Rob,

      Louisiana law doesn’t trump federal law, so even though the state restrictions on carrying within 1,000 feet of schools are narrower, this does not affect federal law. The federal statute does, however, exempt those licensed by he state, and Louisiana concealed carry law was recently amended to allow carrying in school firearm free zones. So if you have a permit, the federal gun free zones do not apply.

  • Diogonese

    The many remarks that disparage Mr. Courreges really miss the mark. His common sense is actually refreshing on the topic of gun control. No government has no right to deny a person of the natural right to self-protection. How can it be wrong to protect and defend the Constitution, which includes the 2nd Ammendment? How can it be wrong to protect and defend property rights? Law makers – local, state, federal – seem hell-bent on criminalizing legal gun owners, controlling our lives and eroding privacy. Motor vehicle deaths are app. 95 people every day in the US. Does this mean we should ban motor vehicles?

  • Diogonese

    The one question that is rarely, if ever, asked: How many crimes do guns prevent? Sure, it is an impossible question to answer since no statistics are kept. Common sense tells us that a deterrent factor exists.

    • Terrence O’Brien

      Not sure. We seldom read of a successful use of a gun in self-defense. I suspect such events are greatly out-numbered by gun accidents. As for a “deterrent factor,” I’m not sure how that works, especially for those who carry their weapons concealed and for those who don’t even want their gun ownership to be known.