Over at The New York Times, Alan Berlow thinks he has discovered “gun control that actually works.” He hasn’t, and it’s a pitiable liberal tendency to search desperately for successful gun control laws, year after year and ban after ban. It is the policy equivalent of Sasquatch: it’s out there, somewhere, even though there’s no real demonstrable proof of it. You just have to keep looking.
Barlow thinks he has finally found it, the Surgeon’s Photograph of gun control. “For more than 80 years,” he writes, “the United States has enforced a tough and effective gun control law that most Americans have never heard of:” “It’s a 1934 measure called the National Firearms Act, and it stands as a stark rebuke to the most sacred precepts of the gun lobby and provides a model we should build on.”
The National Firearms Act of 1934 does no such thing: it rebukes no “sacred precept,” and the “model” it “provides” is meaningless in relation to broader gun policy.
The NFA mandates that owners register various types of firearms and firearm accessories: machine guns, silencers, sawed-off shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and other concealable weapons. Registration involves a background check, an added tax, approval by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a stolen gun reporting requirement.
One of These Things Does Not Undermine the Other
In Berlow’s reckoning, the NFA “makes a good case against the N.R.A.,” because it requires a firearm database the likes of which the National Rifle Association vehemently opposes for broader gun ownership. “[T]o today’s N.R.A.,” he writes, “such measures are an existential threat to the Second Amendment.” As Berlow puts it, the NFA’s success “forcefully undermines the N.R.A.’s nonsensical claims that reasonable limits on gun ownership are a serious burden to law-abiding gun owners.”
This is profoundly silly for a number of important reasons, chief among them that Berlow seems not to grasp the animating principle of the NRA itself. The NRA has one purpose through which it serves the American body politic: broadly safeguarding the American right to keep and bear arms. The firearms covered by the NFA, on the other hand, are niche items—certain carbines and fully-automatic M4s and handguns with shoulder-stocks.
It is simply nonsense to claim that heavily regulating these types guns represents “reasonable limits” that can be applied to broader categories of firearms. One style of regulation covering a few specific types of guns does not mean that every gun must be likewise covered, any more than the specific regulations covering certain types of cheeses means you must similarly regulate a raw-milk cheese and a slice of American.
As for Berlow’s broader argument, that gun registration promises “tremendous success” in reducing gun violence: this is a dubious proposition at best and a willfully ignorant one at worst. One only need look at Washington DC’s gun registration law compared to the decades of the…