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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With less than a month to go until voting is held in Super Tuesday primaries, Democratic presidential candidates may want to consider how their positions on gun control will affect their chances at the ballot, particularly in Virginia. At a minimum, they can expect a grilling on the topic during any campaigning in the Commonwealth. 

The evidence from the peaceful, non-partisan Second Amendment protest in Richmond strongly suggests that voters there are passionate, vocal and well-informed on the issue. And you can bet the national audience will be listening intently as they answer difficult questions not much raised elsewhere so far in their campaigns for president.


For example: What are these politicians trying to achieve with their gun control legislation? Perhaps it is to stop mass shootings (certainly a worthy goal), but 9 out of 10 mass shootings take place in “gun free” zones. Perhaps it is to reduce crime, but Virginia already has the fourth lowest violent crime rate in the nation — some 40 percent below the national average — so additional firearms restrictions seem unlikely to be of benefit.

In fact the only safer states are Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire — all of which have gun laws as lenient or more so than Virginia at the moment, while neighboring D.C., Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee all have higher violent crime rates. And Virginia’s violent crime and murder rates have fallen consistently over the last 20 years, while at the same time the population has grown by 10 percent and gun ownership by almost 50 percent. This would strongly suggest that tighter gun control brings no benefits but plenty of problems, and there is much additional data to suggest this holds true across the nation.

One of the avenues the candidates are all pursuing is to ban certain types of gun, which they have labelled as Assault Weapons. This despite the fact that the federal Assault Weapons ban of 1994-2004 showed no benefits and, on a thorough examination of the data, may even have increased the criminal use of such weapons. Any such policies would not affect automatic weapons, which are very tightly controlled at federal level. Instead they seem to be centered on AR-15 style rifles, despite the fact that rifles tend to be used in less than 5 percent of all criminal shootings, and would do nothing to limit criminal access to the handguns which feature in over 95 percent of shootings.

And a ban, which would affect around 1,000,000 Virginians  and over 45,000,000 Americans by requiring surrender, confiscation and/or registration, is not limited to AR-15 style weapons (and one must wonder if they choose the features of such weapons because they incorrectly believe that AR stands for either Assault Rifle or perhaps Army Rifle instead of the Armalite Rifle company who originally designed it specifically for hunting) but any rifle with any single one of a number of similar features. Such a ban would therefore affect vastly more than just AR-15 style rifles.

In the wake of horrifying mass shootings such as the Virginia Beach  and Virginia Tech shootings such a ban might seem reasonable to many, but in addition to the points made above, it would also fail to address additional substantial legal problems. For example the Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that Second Amendment protections extend to  weapons “in common use for lawful purposes.” With the sheer quantity of AR-15 style firearms involved, this most popular of rifle styles can certainly be considered to be “in common use for lawful purposes.” So what is the point in proposing policies which may be neither constitutionally permissible nor enforceable?

Such facts might lead town hall participants to ask Democratic presidential candidates how many law-abiding citizens they are prepared to criminalize and demean in their pursuit of gun control? Do they seriously intend to make felons of millions of residents of the Republic? How many casualties are they prepared to inflict on ordinary folks (and law enforcement) who would see themselves as standing up for their constitutional rights and might forcibly resist any attempts at confiscation? How many criminals (or criminally insane) would such legislation deter? And, perhaps most importantly, what benefit would actually derive from a ban on assault firearms?

It might be that what these politicians truly fear themselves is encapsulated in these questions. It may be symptomatic that Gov. Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency to ban guns around the Virginia Capitol on Lobby Day the other week (thus statistically increasing the risks to the crowds and despite much historical evidence of peaceful gun lobbying to the contrary) was because of his own fear of guns in the hands of angry citizens who might refuse to submit to his agenda. It could be that what politicians who advocate gun control truly fear is not violent crime or mass shootings but a future well-armed rejection of their own legislative over-reach.     

• Tim Wilson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a retired British Army officer and a proud American citizen. Pete O’Brien is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a retired Naval officer and a successful business owner.


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