The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Firearms Control Bill

“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good law”


“On the weekend
of July 4th, 2015,
American Independence Day,
55 people were shot and wounded
and 10 were murdered,
a seven-year-old boy.
Where was their freedom?
Where was their right
to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness?”

Mass shootings understandably are headline news. But little has been done to address gun violence in general. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that every day 318 people are shot, and 96 die (of whom 34 are murder and 59 are suicide victims). Gun possession and gun deaths are related; gun-related homicides (excluding suicides) haven taken more lives than the US military losses in the Viet Nam war over the past decade alone. All other rich democratic countries have more stringent gun laws, and consequently fewer guns in circulation, and much less gun violence.

muders by firearm

Gun-related homicides in the US

There is a mishmash of gun control laws in the US at federal, state and local levels – for example, in Chicago and New York.

Gun control is an unequivocal political and not constitutional issue. The so-called gun culture has been assiduously promoted by gun manufacturers and supported by supine politicians backed by the NRA. Adam Hochschild is good on the evolving perpetuation of a gun culture.

Nonetheless, today more than a third of Americans report that they own a gun, and about 40 % are in a household in which someone has a gun. Ownership is higher among men than women, and more common in rural than suburban and urban areas. Estimates of the total number of guns suggest that there are about one for every man, woman and child in the country. A very small number (about 3%) own half of these guns.

The constitutional debate over the Second Amendment is instructive. In its 2008 ruling (District of Columbia v. Heller) the Supreme Court reaffirmed that an individual has the right to bear arms – Justice Scalia ruled that “law-abiding, responsible citizens” have a right to own a handgun “in defense of hearth and home” – but this right was not absolute, and that this does not prohibit the regulation of firearms nor the firearms industry and the latter’s liability for injury caused by illegal use of firearms.

Initiatives like the March for Our Lives show that attitudes on gun-related violence and gun laws are shifting. And the Marjory Stoneman Douglas pupils have published a manifesto for gun control.

So setting aside a reinterpretation of the Second Amendment, and accepting the current case for the legality of the private ownership of handguns (and hunting and sporting guns), what might be the key elements in a new federal law to regulate private firearm possession and to reduce gun-related violence?

The starting point is that ownership and use comes with responsibility and liability. A gun owner should be licensed and insured. This is no different to buying and driving a car, or borrowing money to buy a property. These are not onerous measures for legitimate gun owners. Nor do they infringe individual liberty. Similarly, the retail trade in guns and ammunition needs to be tightened with unregulated sales made illegal. Also more use should be made of insurance markets to regulate the gun industry. Firearm owners – not least collectors, hunters and sport gun owners – who can show responsible practice in terms of gun protection devices and training are likely to benefit with premium discounts on their liability should a gun be lost, stolen or used by a third party to commit a crime. And funding – both federal and state – will be needed to compensate owners for giving up firearms made illegal by the change in the law, and the cost of destroying these firearms. This will be an initial burden on public finances but will be soon offset by the reduction in the public costs of dealing with gun violence and gun-related crimes.

Here is a three-part framework and suggested plain English wording for a new gun control law.

1. Firearm licenses

  1. No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearm license holder.
  1. No person shall own or purchase a firearm or ammunition without a firearm license.
  1. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall regulate this Act, and with the FBI vet and approve or deny firearm license applications based on background checks.
  1. States may issue a firearm license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including additional age limits, firearms safety training, lengths of waiting periods, and fees as determined by the State.
  1. A firearm license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
  1. A person shall be prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm if the individual is:

(a) convicted for violent, firearm-related, and other serious misdemeanors

(b) subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or extreme risk protective order

(c) involuntarily hospitalized or identified as dangerous by mental health professionals or law enforcement agencies

(d) on the consolidated Terrorist Watch List.

  1. Any person who becomes disqualified from possessing firearms shall surrender the firearms to a local law enforcement agency or sell the firearms to a licensed dealer without delay and within 30 days, or the designated local law enforcement agencies shall seize the firearms.
  1. A firearm license holder may only purchase a firearm and ammunition in the State in which the firearm license was issued, and the license holder shall present the license at the point of sale.
  1. A firearm license holder shall declare the ownership of all firearms (make and model and serial number) in the holder’s possession to local law enforcement agencies.
  1. A firearm license holder may only sell previously-registered firearms to a firearms vendor license holder.
  1. A firearm license holder may only transfer previously-registered firearms to another firearm license holder.
  1. A firearm license holder shall only possess or carry a firearm in the State in which the license was issued unless permitted by law in another State.
  1. A firearm license holder shall report the sale, transfer, loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies.
  1. Failure to declare all firearms or to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license, a fine or both.
  1. Any person without a valid firearm license in possession of a firearm or ammunition shall be committing a felony.

2. Firearms vendor licenses

  1. No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearms vendor license holder.
  1. No person shall sell, barter, gift, trade or transfer firearms or ammunition without a firearms vendor license.
  1. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall vet and approve or deny firearm vendor incense applications based on background checks.
  1. States may issue a firearm vendor license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including firearms safety training, and fees as determined by the State.
  1. A firearm vendor license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder shall report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies. Failure to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder may only sell firearms and ammunition in the State in which the firearm sales license was issued.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder shall record all sales of firearms and ammunition and report each transfer to State law enforcement agencies within 48 hours.
  1. The sale, barter, gift, trade or transfer of firearms or ammunition to a person not holding a firearm license shall be a felony.

3. Other provisions

  1. State law enforcement agencies and the AFT & FBI shall keep firearm background check records and firearm registry records indefinitely.
  1. Firearms license holders and firearms vendor license holders shall be required to take out firearms liability insurance.
  2. Large capacity ammunition magazines holding and feeding more than 10 rounds are banned.
  1. States may prescribe the quantity of ammunition that may be purchased by a firearms license holder in a given time.
  1. All firearms shall be sold fitted with approved gun lock or gun safety device approved by the ATF, within 30 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
  1. A firearm license holder and firearm vendor license holder shall store firearms in a locked container or equipped with a gun safety device, except when the license holder is carrying a firearm on his or her person or has the firearm under his or her immediate control.
  1. New models of handguns shall be designed, manufactured and delivered microstamp-ready, capable of identifying the make and model and serial number of the handgun.
  1. All automatic and semi-automatic assault and any other proscribed weapons, and large capacity ammunition magazines, shall be surrendered to State and designated law enforcement agencies within 90 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
  1. Gun buyback programs shall be carried out covering all firearm types. State and designated local law enforcement agencies shall operate:

(a) anonymous buyback schemes for firearms and ammunition to be exchange for vouchers at established set rates

(b) a temporary buyback from gun owners of firearms and ammunition made illegal by the firearms control laws, to be exchanged for vouchers at established rates depending on firearm type and pre-ban market prices.

  1. States shall be responsible for the destruction of all returned firearms and ammunition.
  2. The export of used firearms shall be prohibited.


UPDATE: This is an excellent article on the gun violence culture:

A lot of us adults watching the march and the walkout felt hope for the first time in a long time, and not just because of the incredible signs. We saw a generation who is succeeding where we failed, an emerging new force that thinks differently and who is willing to take the power they democratically deserve.


It just goes on

“This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing).”  Chief Art Acevedo of Houston, following Santa Fe High School atrocity.




Barking up the tree

This blog has been quiet for a while, but now I am going to try and write regularly.


Gaby Hinsliff has a great piece on dogs in The Guardian:

They’re non-judgmental providers of security in anxious times, and unlike so many other things in precarious lives they stand for loyalty, permanence and undimmed optimism. When other trappings of adult life – steady jobs, home ownership, someone to love – seem out of reach, at least a dog is achievable.

Reading 2016 (June)

tauzeroTau Zero by Poul Anderson (1970). This is an interesting yarn. Your heart does sink when you read inside the front cover how many tens of books Poul Anderson wrote. But Tau Zero is considered a ‘hard’ SF classic, meaning that it is scientifically accurate (here in terms of knowledge in the late 1960s). Based on relativity, tau refers to proper time that is time as we know it, i.e. measured by a clock, and tau zero being approximate to the speed of light (I think that this is right). Set in a post-holocaust new world order (the “Covenant” a sort of Swedish social democratic yet authoritarian empire bent on the colonisation of the galaxy), the latest starship – the Leonora Christine – with its multinational crew of scientists sets off. But already some way into the future the colonialist quest goes awry when the starship collides with a nebula cloud – and stuck in a space-time continuum – eventually and at great speed arrives at the collapse of the universe passing through the subsequent Big Bang, thereafter the plucky explorers happily recommence life on a new Earth. Phew. For all the science this is as much a boy’s own adventure plus the softest of sexual fantasy – including a Dr Strangelovian abandonment of so-called monogamous sexual relationships… again  a sacrifice required for the future of the human race.

Among Others by Jo Walton 2010. This is a great read. And not least because it is paean to (perhaps the lost world) of public libraries and dedicated to librarians throughout the world.

Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilisation… libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the kindness of their hearts

It is a rites of passage story, as told in her diary by a troubled teenager Moamongothersrwenna Phelps, whose family has endured a degree of insanity, or at very least an other world experience of magic, fairies and witches, living with damaged minds and bodies. Mori is a prodigious reader, with a staple diet of fantasy and SF novels It’s a relief to recognise some of the authors and titles in her canon. I’m not a fan of SF in general: I disliked the LOTR and The Hobbit as a teenager, but enjoyed the John Wyndham´s The Day of the Triffids, Frank Herbert´s Dune and Ursula le Guin’s The Dispossessed.

Among Others has such a positive outlook on life plus it is a celebration of the joys and solace of reading.

feetchainsFeet of Chains by Kate Roberts (published in Welsh as Traed Mewn Cyffion in 1936), translated by Kate Gramich in 2012.

An everyman tale of the family and times of Jane and Ifan Gruffydd in rural northern Wales from the 1880s to the 1920s.  Ifan is a labourer in a slate quarry and the family lives in a one-room cottage and with a smallholding, and Jane describes their efforts to make ends meet as their children to make their own way in life through education and migration and war. One son, Twm, is killed in the Great War (a war that “… no one in Moel Arian knew what to make of it really”). Realism and fatalism collide. At the end the surviving son Owen declaims:

It was the time for someone to stand up against injustice. To do something about it. Thinking about it, that was the trouble with his people. They were heroic in their capacity to suffer, and not in their capacity to do something to oppose the cause of their suffering.

Reading 2016 (February)
Reading 2016 (March)
Reading 2016 (April)

New Old Sarum

Donald Trump has been mouthing off about the upcoming elections claiming that they are a set up:  “… stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election”.

There is an element of historical truth about the crookedness of US elections, but on both sides of the political aisle.

lbjLBJ muscled himself into power, gaining his seat in the Senate by 87 votes in 1948 in part using dead voters, and repeated the ballot-stuffing in 1960 to ensure Kennedy won Texas, the South and the presidency. From the the review in the LRB of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power by Robert Caro:

Johnson brought to the ticket his well-honed skills in vote rigging (the skill being not so much the rigging as the getting away with it)


The Bush family and the Republicans got away with it in Florida in the 2000 elections for the 43rd President. Butterfly ballots, discarded ballot papers, Bush v Gore, a suppliant Supreme Court, and the refusal to allow a recount are dissected in a John Nichol book Jews for Buchanan. Did You Hear the One About the Theft of the American Presidency? 


Once in the Oval Office Johnson ensured that the Civil Rights Act (1964) passed, along with the Social Security Amendments Act (1965), which introduced Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act (1965), to correct racial discrimination in voting – not least voter registration. Johnson predicted that this act would in effect deliver the South to the Republicans as former white conservative democrats switched party and newly enfranchised minorities registered as democrats.

Voter’s rights have been under threat ever since. Much of this is basic racial and local political gerrymandering.

These restrictive laws and practices, all invoked by Republicans, have the purpose and effect of reducing turnout disproportionately among racial minorities and the young, populations that are more likely to vote for Democrats.

And some appears to be nothing less than an elite or corporate attempt to undermine representative democracy, whose legitimacy is in any case weakened by widening inequality.

The approach has been to turn the rotten borough concept inside out; the voting process is apparently democratic, but the majority vote is used by the corporate patron(s) in their interests. Since the Chartists the propertied class have been horrified with parliamentary democracy. But as Bukharin foresaw the state has became ‘the executive commitee of the ruling class’ but one constantly looking over their shoulders. This commitee is subject to periodic changes (elections). But they remain really worried about resistance from below: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a similar free-trade deal between Canada and the EU, are now both in doubt (& President Obama unexplained support for such deals does much to besmirch his achievements). It is better that Hillary Clinton wins but is it more than a sideshow?



How to Rig an Election