IT’S a depressingly familiar pattern. Some nutjob does something horrific with a gun. Pundits and politicians who have already devoted their lives to punishing the innocent put on their dancing shoes and do a Tarantella in the blood of the victims. They know they’ve got another opportunity to make it as hard as possible to be a legal firearms owner.
The traditional response to this from gun owners has been to hunker down, send money to the NRA, and show everybody how law-abiding we are. In the past, when our favorite tools have been outlawed, some of us have submissively modified them or ditched them in favor of something less politically incorrect. Did this approach work? Not at all, really. It culminated with Draconian 1994 bans on “assault weapons” and standard-capacity magazines that sent us into a sort of wilderness for ten long years.
But enduring the useless ban also seems to have taught us a valuable lesson. After the ban’s sunset in 2004, the sun rose on a different environment. Gun-control activists had confidently assumed that renewing the ban would be a snap. But it was not to be.
The problem with driving a peaceful, defenseless people into the wilderness is that the people who emerge from that wilderness may be neither of those things. Hoplophobes not only failed to continue the national AWB, they found themselves being routinely beaten, year after year and issue after issue, by statelevel activists.
But the banners tried again after some overindulged and underadjusted brat took his grudges out on grade schoolers in Newtown, Connecticut. Surely, the hopeful hoplophobes imagined, dead first graders should be excuse enough to punish millions of people who had nothing to do with the crime. But … surprise! In 2013, gun banners failed again at the national level. Their hopes moved down a step, to the states.
And there—success! Or so it seemed.
The drama opened in New York. Enter the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act.
It has been observed that New Yorkers come in two varieties: New York City dwellers, who have lived under the Sullivan Act for so long that they faint like Victorian maidens at the very thought of a gun, and everybody else. For a long time, NY state politics have been dominated by NYC and its friends in Albany. That crowd passed the SAFE Act.
There was a time when Upstaters would have quietly gone along. But that time is gone. Less than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, the first of several enormous demonstrations against the new law drew thousands to Albany.
And nobody was wasting time on fantasies about repealing or modifying the law; gun owners went straight to boycott. “Hit us with your best shot, Andy!” shouted a headline in a 21 January 2013 New York Post article that predicted “the biggest act of civil disobedience in state history.” Nearly every county legislature in the state went on record opposing the law, as did most county sheriffs and numerous state police officers.
“I’ve heard from hundreds of people that they’re prepared to defy the law, and that number will be magnified by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, when the registration deadline comes,’’ said Brian Olesen, president of American Shooters Supply, one of the largest gun dealers in the state.
The article went on to quote State Rifle and Pistol Association President Tom King: “They’re saying, ‘F— the governor! F— Cuomo! We’re not going to register our guns,’ and I think they’re serious. People are not going to do it. People are going to resist.’’
The New York registration deadline was 15 April 2014. By March, protesters were publicly burning registration forms in scenes reminiscent of the draft-card burnings of the 1960s. Only these weren’t barefoot, long-haired counterculture types showing up at the rallies. Prosperous people who considered themselves solid law-abiding citizens roused themselves to actions they probably couldn’t have imagined two years ago.
Failure to register an “assault weapon” in New York is a Class A misdemeanor. In neighboring Connecticut, where the deadline was 31 December 2013, it’s a Class D felony. You’d think the prospect of becoming a felon would scare the majority of gun owners into compliance, wouldn’t you?
Well, it didn’t.
To the dismay of Connecticut lawmakers, most of these previously lawabiding people said Molon Labe. To the tune of defiant rallies, only some 50,000 had complied with the law by the time the deadline had come and gone. Of course like everywhere else, nobody knows how many “assault weapons” there are in Connecticut. But estimates of the number of shiny-new felons in the state range from tens to hundreds of thousands.
“Now, State officials look down the barrel of the laws that they created, and it is very probable that they now tremble as they rethink the extremity of their folly,” said a statement from one organization. “Connecticut Carry calls on every State official, every Senator, and every Representative to make the singular decision: Either enforce the laws as they are written and let us fight it out in court, or else repeal the 2013 Gun Ban in its entirety.
“As many media sources have pointed out, there is very little compliance with the new edicts, and there is absolutely no way for the State to know who is obeying the law or not. State officials have made their bluff, and Undersecretary [for criminal justice policy and planning at the Office of Policy and Management Michael] Lawlor has made his position clear, that the State will enforce the laws. We say: Bring it on.”
One factor uniting Connecticut gun owners is that the new law isn’t just about “assault weapons.” As of 1 April 2014, anyone wishing to purchase any long gun from any seller must first obtain a “certificate of permission” from the state. This bull gores everybody, and it has united its victims as never before.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. The blue North Atlantic states aren’t hotbeds of “angry right-wing racist gun-hugging terrorists.” The targets of the new laws were supposed to heave resigned sighs and get in line.
If defying the law is what it takes to defeat it, they have said, so be it. Connecticut State Senator Tony Guglielmo, who wishes it to be known he voted against the law, summed up the situation rather nicely in a February 2014 Hartford Courant article: “If you pass laws that people have no respect for and they don’t follow them, then you have a real problem.”
For all the shouting and posturing, the laws can’t be aggressively enforced in either state. There aren’t enough cops or prisons to deal with all the new lawbreakers, and both sides know it. The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection blinked first, stating that there’s no plan to go door-to-door collecting illegal guns. But they’re a little vague about what they do propose. People who are known to possess illegal unregistered rifles can go into a database, and heaven help them when they run afoul of the law for any other reason. But by far the majority of the new felons aren’t known.
Meanwhile, other blue states have paused to reconsider. Progressive legislators in Rhode Island proposed no less than nine bad gun laws in the current session, but no votes are scheduled as of this writing. When hearings were held on the measures in March, hundreds showed up at the State House in protest. In other states such as Delaware, new gun-control bills were allowed to quietly die in the face of loud opposition.
Politicians in that paradise of freedom, New Jersey, are made of sterner stuff. Public hearings on their proposed new magazine limit law made news when Shyanne Roberts, a cute and articulate nine-year-old competitive shooting prodigy, testified and became an instant Internet star. Another witness spoke for an awful lot of people when he summed everything up: “I can tell you here and now, I will not comply.” After hearing from more than 80 witnesses against the new bill, a NJ Assembly panel promptly voted to pass it. The bill went on to the full Assembly and the Senate, where it was also expected to pass. As of this writing, we don’t know whether the unpredictable Governor Chris Christie will sign the bill or veto it.
Right now the situation in all these states is fluid and tense. Recordings of desperate state officials goaded into blurting “I am the master” (as a Connecticut state trooper did) or “F— you” (as one Rhode Island legislator did) get millions of hits overnight. There’s talk of shooting. Nobody knows how this is going to end. But something new is happening. Blue-state gun owners, once accustomed to being passive victims, have decided to be victims no more.
All we can suggest is to stay tuned, America.