DAVID B. KOPEL
News & Record (Greensboro, NC), December 13, 1994, p. A8.
President Clinton might go along.
Every three decades or so Congress proves its toughness by ''cracking down'' on law-abiding gun owners. With the anti-gun frenzies of 1934, 1968 and 1994 now behind us, gun owners may be safe until around 2020, when Andrew Cuomo becomes Speaker of the House. That means that the next stage of the gun control cycle is about to begin undoing the damage. Last time, it took Congress until 1986 to rectify the worst parts of the Gun Control Act of 1968.
This time, reform may come much more quickly. The majority of the House of Representatives is rated A or A+ by the NRA, and the rest of Congress may not be particularly inclined to buy the advice that picking a fight with gun owners is a sure formula for electoral success - given the experiences of Harris Wofford, Tom Foley, Mike Synar, Dan Glickman, Jim Sasser, Dave McCurdy, and many other ex-members of Congress.
Outright repeal of the Brady Act or the ban on so-called ''assault weapons'' could not survive a Clinton veto. But there are reforms that ought to earn a presidential signature, if Clinton is true to his word about respecting the rights of law-abiding Americans to own guns for sport and protection.
First, the Brady Act should be made truly national in scope. It inflicts a waiting period of five government working days on the 41 states that had chosen not to enact laws as restrictive as the ''Brady Bill.'' It is only fair to prohibit states from imposing waiting periods of more than five days.
By 1998 the Brady Act will sunset into the NRA's preferred alternative: a national, immediate check on purchasers of both handguns and long guns. The instant check should be amended so it pre-empts other, obsolete state permission-to-purchase laws.
True nationalization of the Brady Act will protect the citizens of states like New Jersey and New York, where obtaining a permit to buy a gun often takes months, and sometimes a year or more. Such a ridiculously long waiting period endangers public safety by preventing people from obtaining self-defense weapons when they need them.
Also ripe for genuine nationalization is the ban on so-called ''assault weapons,'' which is dubbed a ''Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.'' Despite the title, the gun ban provided no new legal protections of the guns it did not ban. To comply with truth in labeling, the new law should be amended so as to prohibit state or local bans on ''recreational'' guns that are not ''assault weapons.''
That change will hardly affect state laws, only New Jersey, among all 50 states, has banned as many guns as the federal government just did. True nationalization would protect citizens in Chicago, Washington, and a few other cities that have enacted crime-facilitating handgun bans.
Federal laws controlling simple possession of firearms are based on the intellectually hollow claim that the congressional power to regulate ''interstate commerce'' is actually a power to enact laws on any subject. In contrast, congressional action to stop unreasonable state or local gun laws is solidly within established congressional power under section five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which empowers Congress to protect Americans from state infringements of their constitutional rights (such infringements are forbidden in section one of the amendment). Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's (R-Md.) act to prevent states from criminalizing armed self-defense also fits well under congressional Fourteenth Amendment powers.
The ''assault weapon'' ban was sold to the public on the pretense that it banned ''only'' 19 guns. To bring the law into line with its supporters' claims, it should be revised to apply to 19 particular firearms. Generic language that brings the gun ban total to nearly 200 firearms should be deleted.
In addition, the Colt semiautomatic rifles should be removed from the ''bad'' gun list and put on the list of protected ''recreational'' firearms. The Colt rifles are identical in firepower and function to the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which the federal law specifically declares to be a legitimate ''recreational'' firearm. The only difference between Colt and Ruger is that Colt offended the gun control lobbies by vigorous counterlobbying, while Ruger supported prohibitions on guns of other manufacturers.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has resumed its 1970s practices of targeting gun rights activists for enforcement activity and of breaking into people's homes and destroying property for no good reason. The BATF is also compiling computerized gun registration lists, in flagrant defiance of explicit federal law. The BATF budget, which has grown explosively over the last decade, should be reset at its 1984 level and frozen. The firearms transaction forms of retired gun dealers should be retained by the dealers, not turned over to the BATF.
Attorney General Janet Reno obviously has no interest in a real investigation of the numerous crimes that appear to have been committed by the BATF and the FBI's misnamed ''Hostage Rescue Team'' at Waco, Texas. Congress should launch its own investigation and demand the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Finally, since violence is not a disease, the gun prohibition propaganda factory at the Centers for Disease Control should be abolished.
Those reforms are not all that is necessary to change federal gun laws so that they protect, rather than endanger, the safety and liberty of the American people. But, like the Brady bill, they are ''a good first step.''
David B. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., and an associate policy analyst of the Cato Institute.