In late December 2013, residents of the Constitution State were lining up in the cold to register so-called “assault rifles” and high-capacity magazines (magazines that hold more than 10 rounds), to comply with a new state law that went into effect on 1 January.
State officials had expected the flood of last-minute registrations. What they didn’t expect was that so few “assault weapon” owners would comply with the law. By mid-January, there were only some 50,000-odd registrations in state authorities’ hands.
The state was expecting a whole lot more:
At roughly 50,000 applications, officials estimate that as little as 15 percent of the covered semi-automatic rifles have actually been registered with the state. “No one has anything close to definitive figures, but the most conservative estimates place the number of unregistered assault weapons well above 50,000, and perhaps as high as 350,000,” the report states.
In late January, a gun-rights blogger for Examiner.com reported that only some 38,000 of the high-capacity magazines had been registered in Connecticut.
As Charles Cooke notes at The Corner: even if you cut the state officials’ high estimate of existing “assault weapons” in Connecticut in half, that still leaves more than two thirds of them unregistered.
Connecticut’s leaders are scrambling to account for the discrepancy – although some have heard from constituents that they are, in fact, engaged in civil disobedience:
Republican state Sen. Tony Guglielmo told The Courant he recently spoke to a constituent at a meeting in Ashford, who informed him that some of his friends with semi-automatic rifles are intentionally taking a stand.
“He made the analogy to prohibition,” the lawmaker recalled. “I said, ‘You’re talking about civil disobedience, and he said ‘Yes.’”
Guglielmo said he really thought the “vast majority would register.”
Other officials think the low registration numbers are due to ignorance on behalf of gun owners who aren’t aware of the new law. It’s impossible to know the main reason why gun owners aren’t showing up to register their guns without hearing from them directly, although Guglielmo’s constituent indicates at least some are practicing “civil disobedience.”
It seems very doubtful to me that gun owners are unaware of the new registration law (which was passed after the Newtown shooting in December 2012). Gun owners – especially those who own the weapons referred to by legislators as “assault rifles” – tend to be much more aware of gun laws than other people.
Gun owners are also unusually likely to know about the abuses that crop up with “database policing.” California has implemented such policing with its new gun laws, and although in theory the California approach will not deny their gun rights to competent, law-abiding people, the experience of this Bakersfield man makes it clear that the citizen’s rights are assumed away as the going-in proposition, rather than vice versa.
The results of database policing in California are raids without warrants, and a confiscate-first, ask-questions-later approach. In New York, database policing may have taken a more sinister – unlawful – turn in 2013, when two residents of Erie County were ordered to surrender their guns under the provisions of the SAFE Act. Neither man had a criminal record, but according to the attorney hired by one, his client was apparently flagged by the New York State Police because he had been on anti-anxiety medication for a brief period in the past. The client’s doctor had never reported him as a potential danger. But the police were able – improperly – to access the record of his prescription for a medication. Someone had decided to order him to turn his gun in.
There’s not much we can do these days about our prescriptions being in a database somewhere, or government authorities having access to those records. For a growing number of veterans, there is little they can do about the Veterans Administration entering their names in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, flagged as ineligible to buy or possess firearms (see last link). The VA has reportedly been doing this based on assessments of veterans’ supposed “incompetence” to manage their own affairs. But the extraordinary number of veterans who have been flagged in this way excited skepticism from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who has been trying to get language into a defense authorization bill that would shut down this VA practice. As he and others point out, no one’s Second Amendment rights should be denied to him without a constitutional process in court.
The gun owners of Connecticut may well be exercising the discretion they do have, however: to not enter their firearms in a database, and let the state figure out what to do about that.
As Charles Cooke says, at NRO, it’s a stupid law.
But it’s more than stupid. It posits a relationship of the state to men that America was founded to prohibit, and that millions of Americans strenuously oppose. Gun registration does, in fact, lead to gun confiscation. The reasons for confiscation may sound reasonable today. But there’s no magic wand that prevents the state from changing its reasons for confiscating guns, once the guns are registered.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Richard Fernandez noted an article by Tennessee professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in which Reynolds celebrated how “Irish democracy” – the people simply ignoring the laws – was confounding things like Obamacare, and legal prohibitions on marijuana. (I don’t know if Reynolds would be enthusiastic about Irish democracy confounding gun-registration laws in the states.)
But many gun owners would invoke a different icon of our varied Western heritage – a much older one. They would suggest that their fellow citizens in Connecticut are not so much “voting” with their inactivity, as standing at the pass at Thermopylae, quietly saying: μολὼν λαβέ.