Joe Biden unveils gun control wishlist

February 16, 2021

By

Matthew Hoy

Over the weekend, on the third anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., President Joe Biden finally unveiled his gun control agenda, calling for "commonsense" regulations that aren't commonsense and would have done nothing to prevent the crimes they allege to care about.

Biden called on Congress to pass laws:

  • Requiring background checks on all gun sales
  • Banning "assault weapons"
  • Banning "high-capacity" magazines (typically defined as those that can hold more than 10 rounds.
  • Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA)

Joe Biden's wishlist wouldn't have stopped Parkland attack

As is common practice with all politicians, Biden tied his new push to a tragedy, seeking to use outrage to boost his preferred policy choices. However, if all of the laws above had been in place on Feb. 14, 2018,

The shooter (Restricted Arms does not use the name of mass casualty shooters in order to deny them the fame they seek) purchased the firearm he used at a gun store, and passed the background check. All of this despite 45 calls to the shooter's home involving him or his brother. Despite claims otherwise, police officials could've taken actions under existing laws to strip the shooter of his 2nd Amendment rights, especially after he made an Instagram post indicating he wanted to "shoot up a school."

Of course, most guns used in crimes are acquired illegally. It's likely that a determined shooter would not be stopped by merely being prevented from buying a firearm legally.

While the Parkland shooter used an AR-15 pattern rifle, simply banning them, again, would not stop a determined shooter. This meme from the Firearms Policy Coalition illustrates why.

The rifle on the bottom is an "assault weapon" as defined in California and the other handful of states that ban those types of weapons. It has a pistol grip, an adjustable stock and a flash hider. The weapon on top is not an assault weapon. Both rifles operate exactly the same. They take the same magazines, including "high-capacity" ones. They fire the same round. They fire at the same rate: One bullet per trigger pull.

Banning so-called "assault weapons" won't end mass shootings. They'll simply use other weapons. The most deadly school shooting in U.S. history was at Virginia Tech. That shooter used two handguns.

High-capacity magazines are also a frequent target of gun control advocates, but the Parkland shooter didn't use magazines holding more than 10 rounds apparently because the larger ones wouldn't fit in his bag. California has long had a prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, but such prohibitions did not stop the shooters from using larger magazines in the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., and the gunman who killed six near UC Santa Barbara (three by stabbing), had more than 40 legal, 10-round magazines for his handguns. [For those wondering about the arguments against limiting magazine capacity, please see this detailed defense here.]

Finally, Biden's characterization of the PLCCA is stunningly dishonest it does not grant "immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets."

A point that has been made repeatedly, but is continually ignored, is that the "assault weapons" that gun control proponents call "weapons of war" are not used by any military anywhere in the world. "Assault weapons" are a made-up term to describe firearms that look like those issued to members of the military. They are not the same. There is no military where a semi-automatic-only rifle is the standard weapon issued to troops. They are issued rifles which, in addition to semi-automatic, also fire in "bursts" (typically three rounds fired per trigger pull) or are fully automatic (the rifle continues to fire as long as the trigger is depressed and there is ammunition to feed the gun).

These are not weapons of war.

The PLCCA was a law passed by Congress during the Bush 43 administration that aimed to stop deep-pocketed pro-gun control activists like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, from achieving through the civil lawsuits what they could not accomplish through the democratic process.

When a mass shooting event occurred—although this legal tactic was not limited to mass shootings—lawyers would file suit against the firearm manufacturer, despite their being no real legal basis for doing so. The goal was to saddle manufacturers with such high legal bills that they would stop making "assault weapons" (although this undoubtedly would have extended to all firearms, including common handguns as the tactic met with success) and increase their costs which would be passed on the their customers through higher gun prices.

Repealing the PLCCA would not open up just "assault weapons" to these frivolous lawsuits, but any firearm. The principle by which these suits were being filed had no limiting principle.

Gun manufacturers can still be held liable for producing a faulty product (like a gun that fires without the trigger being pressed, or one that would fire even with the safety on), but they can't be held liable for someone using their legal product in an illegal way.

The bill had 61 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 12 Democrats, and passed that chamber by a vote of 65-31, with 14 Democrats, 50 Republicans and one independent in support. In the House, 59 Democrats joined 223 Republicans and one independent to pass that chamber 283-144.

This was a pretty bipartisan bill. It's unlikely that, even with an evenly divided senate and 2nd Amendment foe Vice President Kamala Harris available to cast a tie-breaking vote, that Biden would be able to hold on to all of the senate Democrats (or peel off any Republicans) to get to the 50-50 tie.

Democrats like to point out that the firearms industry is the only one with this type of legal protection, and this is likely true. It is also because it is the only industry that needs this protection.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers didn't try to raise awareness, heighten criminal penalties and lower the level of alcohol in the bloodstream that determined a driver was legally impaired by suing automobile manufacturers, or alcohol manufacturers. Those are legal products (for those 21 years of age or older), and our legal system generally doesn't hold those businesses liable when their legal product aids or abets an illegal act.

The estates of people killed by a teenager driving recklessly have not been suing car manufacturers because they make cars that can reach 100 mph when the maximum allowable speed limit in this country is 80 mph on rural highways in just a few states. Mazda has yet to be sued for encouraging reckless driving for its "Zoom-Zoom" ad campaigns.

Of the four policies Biden called on Congress to implement, the only one that likely has a chance of passing is the universal background check provision. This is despite the fact that universal background checks don't have a noticeable effect on crime.

What Joe Biden ran on

These four items are nothing new if you'd looked at the "gun safety" plan that Biden ran on. And certainly Biden's call on Congress to act is the right way to do things in our constitutional system, rather than following the lead of his VP Harris, who scoffed at the idea during a debate and insisted that she would use executive orders to accomplish what the people's elected representatives refused to.

Of the things he might try to do via executive order is one promised in campaign website: to put "assault weapons" and "high-capacity magazines" under the National Firearms Act of 1934. That law passed by Congress was aimed at reducing gang violence and required purchasers of certain firearms and related items to get a $200 tax stamp and go through a background check more thorough than the standard NICS check. Items included under the NFA include short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and suppressors. Wait times for this process can take up to nine months.

Placing "assault weapons," known in the industry as "modern sporting rifles," and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds under the NFA would need to be registered with the ATF, along with a $200 charge for each one. The latest numbers from National Shooting Sports Federation, the firearms industry trade association, put the number of affected rifles in circulation at nearly 20 million. Magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are legal in most U.S. states—only nine and the District of Columbia have capacity restrictions. There are likely hundreds of millions of "large capacity" magazines in private hands around the country. When California's nearly 20-year ban on acquiring magazines that hold more than 10 rounds was briefly suspended for a week in 2019 after U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez found the ban unconstitutional, more than a million of the magazines may have been legally acquired in the state in just one week. (That ruling was upheld last year by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit. A potential en banc review by an 11-judge panel is still pending. The State of California could also appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.)

The workload required of the ATF to process and issue all of those tax stamps would require an expansion of that agency the likes we have never seen. The costs to the public could be extraordinary. Someone with one modern sporting rifle and four 30-round magazines would be looking at a $1,000 cost to register those items. And again, gun control efforts seem to impose their heaviest burdens on the law-abiding poor—those most likely to need a weapon for self-defense.

Tonight on the Radio

I'll be on Dave Congalton's Hometown Radio Show at 6:05 p.m. PST today, February 16, 2021, to talk about these efforts. You can listen live online by following the link and clicking the "Listen Live" banner at the top. I will post the audio of our conversation here when it becomes available.

*UPDATE* The audio is now available. You can listen using the player below.

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