Amy Swearer, on Biden's Gun Control Agenda
4:21PM Mar 11, 2021
law abiding citizens
Kim last month on the third anniversary of the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. If you recall in 2018. I think the big takeaway from this message to Congress was for sort of main thrusts of gun control measures that that he was calling for so the first was a ban on so called assault weapons, and a ban on high capacity magazines. Then you also saw him call for a mandate, or background checks on all gun sales. And that was the term that he used all gun sales. And then he also talked about eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers and I'm quoting here, who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets. So again, none of this is particularly new in the sense that you know no one has ever suggested these measures before, but it is his first time as President, calling, specifically on Congress to to take on these issues. You know, and I think to the, These were very vague calls. So none of these calls.
With these bands be merely future bands, which is what Biden seem to call for during his campaign, you know, you can keep the guns you have now but we're going to ban future sales, or is it going to be a full on Australian style confiscation measure. So, you know, it is pretty vague there but I again it's notable because it is his first real push as president to take on these issues.
Yeah. And my guess is is we're going to hear a lot more about this with such a liberal Congress. Let's unpack some of these issues, you wrote about each one of them in a recent op ed. Can you talk to me a little bit more about banning assault weapons. There are a lot of people out there that would tell you that there's no reason everyday citizens need assault weapons that these are weapons of war. How would you refute that.
Well first of all, I'd start with the Constitution, if the Second Amendment protects it. It doesn't matter what anybody's particular or specific opinion is on whether or not I or you or anybody else needs it if the Second Amendment protects it, it is protected. And I think there are obvious constitutional problems with, you know, whether it's completely banning future sales, or confiscation efforts. We're talking about the nation's most popular semi automatic rifles, something like 15 to 20 million of them in circulation among civilians in this country. And when you start using phrases like weapons of war. These are not useful or meaningful constitutional tests. So when you look at what the Supreme Court has said in cases like the District of Columbia be Heller McDonald v city of Chicago. When you even just look at the original meaning of the Second Amendment. There's nothing in there about, oh well if if certain people think this is a weapon of war, then it's not covered. I think the Supreme Court's test, which is basically that you know is it a commonly used arm that's commonly used by law abiding citizens for lawful purposes, then it's protected. You know, and again, along with that you look at what types of firearms were clearly protected at the time of ratification. You have people bringing you know whether it's single shot pistols muskets your brown Bess musket your Kentucky long rifle. These were at the time weapons of war that was sort of the point is you had these firearms that people had you know that that have legitimate civilian functions, they could use them for hunting for self defense. But then, that were also useful if they were called up to sort of community defense duties within the context of a militia, that, that, so again like this idea of weapons of war, it's just, it's a term that they use to scare people. It doesn't have a real constitutional significance. And so that's that's the first thing that I would say right you have this constitutional argument, and even beyond that, you look at these policy issues. If you could just snap your fingers, and all of a sudden overnight. These 15 to 20 million firearms, the semi automatic rifles just disappeared. Would it make a difference, and the answer's no. And part of this is again there's nothing unusually dangerous about guns like the AR 15. And that has to do with how you even define assault weapons, right. So, when you look at the the defining features of assault weapons. It's not things like caliber muzzle velocity, rate of fire. It's mostly cosmetic features, you know, things that actually make the gun, safer, easier and more comfortable to handle collapsing stocks pistol grips those sorts of things. You know, and even when you look at your how often are these guns used in crime. These are actually the types of firearms that are least likely to be used against civilians in a criminal manner. Something like only 3% of gun related homicides every year are committed by rifles, of any kind. You know they're not really used in gun suicides. You know especially compared to things like handguns they are far, far less dangerous if you're just looking merely at how criminals use guns. You know what is actually used in the vast majority of gun deaths and gun crimes it's not these guns.
know, Jimmy, even if you get past these constitutional issues. Is this even a policy that's going to make Americans meaningfully safer and the answer is no, and frankly it's not designed that way it's designed to sort of this political pushback against scary looking guns. Yeah,
that 3% stat, that's that's the big one, and I. That brings me to the next point which is about banning high capacity magazines would banning that without stop the loss of life in scenarios like Stoneman Douglas High School.
You know the unfortunate reality is is no, it wouldn't, you know, again you start with the constitutional issues I think you're very very serious constitutional questions about banning these for the same reasons that you would so called assault weapons. But when, when you look at what what even is a high capacity magazine, it is a very arbitrary definition to begin with. So, so most times. Most of these laws in certain states will say, you know, 10 rounds some states it's 12. Some states it's 15. But there's no like statistical reason for this that that people really point to it just like oh that's a good round number. So, you know, you start with this this arbitrary measure of well no one needs you know more than 10 rounds. Just because 10 is, I guess a round number. But then when you start getting underneath to, again, the real underlying data that we know about gun crimes and gun violence. I think you mentioned mass shootings and I think that's a good place to start, even though mass shootings are very very small percentage of gun deaths every year in this country. They are of course, very visceral, I mean they have massive impacts on society compared to just how small of a, an actual problem they are, but even when you look at, at Mass public shootings. The vast majority of these shooters are already bringing with them more than one firearm. So you already have that complicating factor. And then you have to look at the context of what's happening in these mass shootings. So the average timeframe between when a person starts that shooting, and when there's an armed response that is going to meaningfully stop him. He is most often about six minutes. Sometimes it's actually a lot more than that. So, you essentially have several minutes for this person. To recap it. And at that point, it doesn't matter it You mean the impact of saying okay well now there are several seconds where they need to reload the impact of that is effectively meaningless if you just force them to use another weapon or or to reload. Whereas if you flip that and you look at the context of how a civilian aid law abiding civilian might use, you know, a so called high capacity magazine, it's in a situation where they are already immediately being confronted by crime, you know, someone has broken into their home. And they are that first responder where that several seconds when they're outgunned when they're out out numbered when their life is on the line. Those several seconds of of reloading could be very very important to saving lives. You know, so I mean it's just astonishing to me, that even if you look at this from just, you know, cost benefit analysis. The benefit of, you know, possibly causing mass shooters to spend some extra seconds, versus, causing law abiding civilians in a self defense context to spend those extra seconds. It's, it's not even a question, especially when you look at the number of times that law abiding civilians defend themselves versus how often mass shootings happen.
Any President Biden brought up mandatory background checks. Let's be really clear on this, what do they want to change
don't we already do background checks. The answer is yes and no. Statistically, I think most, most gun sales and transfers in this country do go through background checks. So, if you are buying a gun from a store from any sort of brick and mortar place from anyone who is with the ATF calls engaged in the business of dealing firearms. You know your your typical gun seller, whether it's at a gun show store of the internet, federal law requires a background check and also requires a background check if you're just an individual person selling across state lines. There is this sort of small group of sales that do not require background checks. So right now, if you think of things like arms list. So the sort of individual sales to individuals within the same state. You know, so like if I have a gun that I just want to get rid of and, you know, advertise it on on arms list. I don't necessarily have to go to a background check. At least under federal law. And part of the reason for this is that only those businesses those those federally licensed businesses have access to the national instant criminal background check system. So if I as, you know, not ffl want to sell a gun. I have to go pay an ffl to do that I can't just call it the FBI and have them run a background check to the. On the one hand, I, I think that it makes sense to want to try to, you know, ensure that that these sort of individual sales are checked in a, in a more substantial way. I don't think that's a that's a bad thing especially these private commercial sales between strangers. But there are two important things to keep in mind. So the first is that even if this was 100% successful. It's a very low reward endeavor. So we know that statistically, this is not how most would be criminals acquire firearms. And we also know that even if it were the same people who are already selling to people they know are criminals are going to continue doing so without background checks, even if you now say, you have to conduct a background check in second. You know I said Biden's recent call called for background checks on all sales that the problem is most calls for universal background checks are much broader than that, it would impose these significant burdens on sort of low risk temporary transfers effectively anytime someone other than you wants to touch your gun for whatever limited period of time you have to do a background check. And you're, you're more likely to actually make felons of law abiding citizens, than to stop any criminal from getting guns that way. Right. You know, and. And so, again, this is one of those areas where I think work can be done, especially if you combine private sale background checks with reasonable exemptions for concealed carry permit holders people who have gun permits and states that require gun permits where you by virtue of having that permit you clearly pass a background check, but it's not. It's not a high reward scenario so because it's low reward you want to make sure that it's also low burden, and low risk for law abiding citizens.
And then the last measure you mentioned is eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers, and I say it like this because I'm not really sure what this means. Exactly.
Yeah, so most of the time when people reference eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers, they're referring to the protection of lawful commerce in arms act to believe was passed in 2005. And so let's let's talk about this act because I think there's a lot of mischaracterizations of this
to me that just still I'm still like, what does that mean.
Right. So, what this law does is it, it is unique to the gun industry. But the law protects a gun manufacturer or sellers distributors, from lawsuits, trying to claim that they're liable for third parties criminally misusing their guns. So essentially, you know if the the gun store sold a gun in compliance with federal law to someone, and for whatever reason that person or someone else somewhere down the line uses that gun to harm someone else. This law protects the gun seller from being sued for that, you know, as some sort of like you provided this person with a dangerous weapon. It does not mean that they're not liable for things like selling defective products like if the gun explodes in your hands that's that's bad. You can sue them, you know if they fail to a fight it failed to follow federal regulations about sales and safety and doing background checks if they falsely advertise and any sort of Tort Claims, you can absolutely still, still sue them for that but the point of this the reason that Congress granted this type of immunity. Was that prior to it gun control advocates were just barrage in the gun industry with these types of frivolous lawsuits, about, you know, third party criminal misuse really just in hopes of miring these businesses, inexpensive litigation to essentially say well we can't kneecap the gun industry through certain types of litigation. And so we're gonna choke out a waffle industry by just tying them up in court and making it too expensive for them to continue selling guns. Okay, and and so that that's that's problematic and so when, when they talk about repealing this, what they're actually saying is we want to make it so that the gun control groups can try to kneecap this lawful industry again there it's not about promoting public safety. You know it's not about any sort of attempts to actually reduce gun violence, it's about choking out the gun industry.
In conclusion, does anything in the Biden administration that they're proposing. Does it make anyone safer, and if not, what should we be doing instead.
The short answer is no. You know, even if 100% successful, even if we just ignore constitutional problems with them. None of these proposals, especially when compared to other things we could be doing. They're not going to make American safer. What it's going to do is create a very politically divisive atmosphere where you know to be even marginally successful, you'd have to put
much political energy and so much time and money in you know that the sort of federal effort to make them marginally successful, but if instead you took that time and energy and effort and put it into things that are addressing the underlying problems that produce gun violence, you're going to get a much safer nation if you put it into. For example, investing in the nation's mental health infrastructure. So two thirds of gun deaths every year, are suicides, two thirds, an incredible number of deaths that are our mental health related. So investing in that in, you know, investing in sort of targeted time limited interventions for people who are a danger to themselves or others training community training local officials to take threats of violence and mental health seriously. You know, using proven anti gang violence programs. Programs like unfortunately ones that the Virginia democrats recently declined to fund in the state of Virginia, you know, investing in education and investing in communities to create stable families to create economic opportunities that lead people away from drug and gang related violence and that promote human flourishing. those types of efforts. One again it promotes human flourishing in a lot of other ways, but it's also related to reductions in gun violence in gun suicides and gun homicides. So if we're gonna make this massive concerted effort, let's put it where it matters let's put it where it's going to do the most good instead of attacking law abiding citizens.
Amy thank you so much for all your research on this topic and I'm sure this isn't the first we'll be speaking to you about this issue.
Thank you for having me.