A ‘Dillinger’ Solution - Copy Roosevelt, Reagan to prevent future Newtown shootings
by Jonathan Jordan
Columnist
December 24, 2012 12:35 AM | 1808 views | 5 5 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Violence in America had reached intolerable levels. Madmen and criminals were using military-style weapons in high-profile mass murders. Innocent men, women and children were gunned down where they lived and played, and voters and the government demanded a change in the nation’s gun laws.

The criminals were the Barker Gang, “Baby Face” Nelson and the Capone mob, and the tools spawning public outrage were the Thompson submachine gun (used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre), the Browning Automatic Rifle (a favorite of Bonnie & Clyde), and the sawed-off shotgun (a toolbox standard of Murder, Inc.).

Through a wise law enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt — and dramatically extended by President Ronald Reagan — America transformed its deadliest weapons into statistically its safest weapons. And it did so without banning ownership of a single gun.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) requires mandatory registration of certain types of weapons: machine guns, short-barreled firearms and explosives. The NFA taxes and regulates the transfer of these weapons, and requires a person wishing to buy one to obtain the consent of local law enforcement and the approval of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Today there are nearly a half million registered machine guns from Florida to Alaska, and they are legal to own and shoot in most states. In Virginia alone, there are 30,220 registered machine guns owned by private citizens as well as law enforcement agencies. Gun advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association have, more or less, accepted the NFA as a part of America’s Second Amendment landscape, and machine gun dealers commonly advertise “All NFA Rules Apply.”

Under Reagan, the continued manufacture of machine guns for civilian ownership was banned after 1986. With the supply of legal machine guns frozen, these weapons are simply too expensive for the garden-variety mass killer to use in a school or workplace massacre.

As a result, legally transferred machine guns have been used in fewer than five homicides since 1968. By comparison, in the year 2005 alone, 671 people were murdered with blunt objects.

That’s right: legally owned machine guns have been the murder weapon in far fewer homicides than hammers, frying pans or baseball bats. Even illegal machine guns are rarely used in killings: from 1983 to 1992, there were 651 law enforcement officers shot to death in the line of duty, yet only five of these murders were committed with illegal machine guns.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the familiar battle lines are being drawn: Sen. Diane Feinstein is dusting off her old “ban list” and the NRA’s supporters are sounding the war cries that have proven so effective in years past. When the word “ban” is used — especially when combined with nouns like “Pelosi” or “Feinstein” — the reflexive formula translates into bitterly-fought laws that will be circumvented by minor modifications in weapons design, whittled down in court challenges, or at most, lived with until they can be repealed.

A solution — using a program endorsed by Reagan and Roosevelt, one that has passed constitutional challenge, one that has a stellar track record, and one that does not require nervous politicians to endorse a ban on any firearms — is to extend the National Firearms Act to military-style assault weapons. Regulate, register, but don’t ban.

This solution should please liberals, who don’t want to see Bushmasters sold for cash over a gun show table, and it should reassure law-abiding gun owners that they will not have to turn in their assault rifles. It avoids the worst fears of the gun lobby and the gun control lobby. And most importantly, it will go a long way to ensuring these machines, designed specifically for killing humans, do not remain cheap and easily available to people who think of them as extensions of video game violence.

As the presidents of the United States and the NRA have both observed, no single firearms regulation will be perfect. But the NFA’s registration system has worked spectacularly since the time of John Dillinger.

Now that the AR-15 has become the “Tommy Gun” of today, we can give gun owners and gun control advocates what they want by looking to America’s best and most effective gun compromise.

Attorney Jonathan W. Jordan is a historian and author in Marietta.
Comments
(5)
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B Brennan
|
December 27, 2012
There are a number of challenges with this approach.

1. BATF has been running 6 months or longer to process a completed tax stamp application for a single item. The BATF does not have the resources now and would have to hire how many people to process millions of applications.

2. Many Chief Law Enforcement Officers will not sign the application for anyone thereby creating a defacto ban within their jurisdiction without any legislative vote.

3. Since this is a tax stamp, it would be retroactive tax on property people already legally own.
Devlin Adams
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December 24, 2012
Foley, Jordan's column was well reasoned and presented, as you say. It is a shame that your commenta reqarding it lacked both of those qualities. You resorted back to your time worn formula of name calling and quoting unsubstantiated numbers.

I guess your comment to Roger Hines that we need to mellow out during this season was only good for one day, huh.

Merry Christmas, anyway.
Kevin Foley
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December 24, 2012
Not a bad idea, Mr. Jordan, but I fear the horse has left the barn. There are tens of millions of these weapons out there.

And if you saw the NRA's chief conspiracy theorist Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press yesterday, the gun lobby is not going to cooperate or exercise common sense. As Bill Press notes nearby, however, the NRA is mostly a toothless tiger. If pols stand up to them, like any schoolyard bully, the NRA will back down.

In any event, thanks for a well reasoned and presented argument.
Devlin Adams
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December 24, 2012
Jordan's column was well reasoned and presented, as you say. It is a shame that your commenta reqarding it lacked both of those qualities. You resorted back to your time worn formula of name calling and quoting unsubstantiated numbers.

I guess your comment to Roger Hines that we need to mellow out during this season was only good for one day, huh.

Merry Christmas, anyway.
MPCato
|
December 27, 2012
Anyone who quotes Bill Press immediately loses any credibility on issues of truth, logic or facts. Luckily you, Foley, having none to begin with, have suffered no loss.
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