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Courts, legislators taking up gun debate

The Butterfly Effect

By Kelly Francis

Alright, I didn’t want to get into the gun debate after the Tucson tragedy, but a couple of items in the news jumped out at me as calling for a little discussion.

Some of you certainly heard something of the proposed federal legislation that would prohibit persons from carrying a gun within 1000 feet of a government official.  This of course was easy enough to shrug off, partially due to practical difficulties in enforcing such a law (Jon Stewart suggested that government officials start wearing cowbells and citizens with guns start carrying NFL yardage chains).

It was only a few weeks later, however, that a California Judge struck down a state law banning online ammunition sales.  What troubled me about this ruling was not only the fact that significant numbers of felons have been shown to have illegally purchased ammunition online, but also that the ruling overturned the statute on the grounds that the definition of “handgun ammunition” was unconstitutionally vague.  This same definition has been used in a number of California statutes, for three decades according to one state senator, including bans on “cop-killer” bullets that can pierce body armor and laws prohibiting ammunition sales to minors.  By overturning the law on these grounds, the court has put a number of California gun laws in jeopardy.

In addition to this, I was disturbed by another story that broke the very same day, with even wider implications.  U.S. Officials are now reporting that they have new evidence showing that Mexican drug cartels have been exploiting weak U.S. gun laws in order to acquire high powered assault weapons.  Drug related violence in Mexico has resulted in over 34,000 deaths over the last four years and has been escalating towards civil war.  U.S. Officials cited numerous cases of straw-buyers, including one case in which seven individuals spent over $104,000 in cash in the Phoenix area to purchase 140 firearms.

These numbers are a stark reminder that as much as we may wish to draw tight jurisdictional boundaries around the laws we pass, real world consequences inevitably spill over.  Severed heads and brutal executions in Mexico may well have contributed to the passage of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, sparking protests and fears of racial profiling.  Likewise, ballot measures like California’s proposition 19 to legalize marijuana, might have been instrumental in curbing some of that violence, by offering legitimate, regulated competition to the drug cartels.  This combination of easy access to guns and high demand for illegal narcotics is in large part helping to fuel Mexico’s current crisis, extending all the way North to the Twin Cities.

Am I backpedaling on the comments I made directly after the Tuscon shooting?  Maybe.  I still believe that Jared Lee Loughner is an outlier, and that passing laws designed to suppress one out of control extremist is problematic at best.  But that’s a far cry from saying that the laws we pass or the court rulings that are handed down don’t have repercussions.  In this case, incredibly far reaching repercussions.

Gun advocates were quick to point out that Jared Lee Loughner bought his gun in person and that California’s failed attempt to ban online ammunition sales wouldn’t have prevented him from obtaining the weapons he ultimately used to shoot 19 innocent people.  Similarly, during a recent hearing on state Representative Steve Drazkowski’s bill to repeal Minnesota’s gun permit law,  Representative Tony Cornish noted that our current law probably wouldn’t have prevented that “bald-headed goon” from buying a gun.  Drazkowski also dismissed the Arizona shooting, commenting that “some person who is mentally unstable in Tuscon or any other town has nothing to do with us setting common sense policy in Minnesota.”

Unfortunately it would appear that this mentally unstable person in Tucson has become something of an irrational litmus test for any new gun control measures.  The refrain seems to be, if it wouldn’t have stopped Loughner, then we don’t need it.  Despite the fact that it might have stopped more garden variety criminals, to say nothing of an international drug war.


  1. First off, let’s straighen one thing out: No police officer has ever been killed by a bullet defeating a properly worn vest rated to stop it. The “cop killer” is a hollywood myth from the movie Lethal Weapon. It doesn’t matter if the bullet is tungsten, lead, titanium-carbide, or coated with teflon. If it’s a 9mm, it won’t penetrate a class two vest. Period. If it’s a 30-06 or .308, it won’t penetrate a class three vest. Period. If it’s a .50 BMG….well, it could be a spit wad, and it probably wouldn’t matter because they don’t produce body armor to stop it.
    Secondly, there is no credible evidence to support the theory that mexican drug cartels are buying RPGs, LAW rockets, grenades, heavy machine guns, M16s, fully-auto AK47s, etc etc from the American civil arms market. Fewer than 1 in 6 guns seized by mexican authorities are ever traced to the US, and, to date, no one has addressed how many of those were originally sold by the US gov to the Mexican Army. It’s plausible that pistols or shotguns available to a US citizen may be interesting to cartels. Rifles? Not so much. Not when fully-auto weapons are available more cheaply and with less risk from corrupt officials.
    Thirdly, I’m not going to defend the 2nd Amendment on safety grounds. It’s a civil right, and civic responsibility. If you choose not to exercise that right, to shirk that responsibility, that’s fine. Don’t trample my rights because your wilful ignorance has caused an irrational fear of inanimate objects. Don’t blame me for a war caused by poor legislation (ie, the Drug War) when the right I’m exercising has nothing to do with the problem or probable solution. And if you’re going to pass feel-good, do-nothing legislation that will make absolutely no measurable difference (Brady Law), at least have your facts straight.

  2. What troubled me about this ruling was not only the fact that significant numbers of felons have been shown to have illegally purchased ammunition online, but also that the ruling overturned the statute on the grounds that the definition of “handgun ammunition” was unconstitutionally vague.

    Much of California law might be based on this, but the problem is the legislature not understanding what they are doing, and drafting bad law. The courts are right to overturn it, regardless of the consequences.

    There’s no real definition for ammunition primarily intended to be used in a handgun. One might suggest that 9×19 Parabellum fits this, but there are plenty of rifles that fire this cartridge as well. And how do you classify .22LR, which is used just as much in handguns as is used in rifles?

    Also consider that online ammunition sales are the primary means competitive shooters purchase ammunition these days. Because it’s a consumable item, requiring face to face transactions would put a lot of competitive shooters in California at a severe disadvantage because it would limit their ability to purchase ammunition in bulk at online discounters, the vast majority of which are located in other states. I’m also extremely skeptical laws like this are going to have much of an effect on black market access to ammunition. Criminals don’t tend to go through much ammunition, in comparison with sport shooters or people who lawfully carry firearms.

  3. nov_284 – speaking as somone who watches her spouse put on a bullet proof vest to serve you and your neighbors…guns still threaten (and take) officers’ lives every day. I do not have an “irrational fear of inanimate objects,” it is real, just ask the family of Sgt. Joseph Bergeron.

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