If that provision is left in the bill, and it passes into law, millions of Americans will find themselves facing a dilemma: either submit to the new regulations and government intrusion, or become outlaws by doing nothing.
A summary of the bill, released at the press conference, includes the requirement “that grandfathered weapons be registered under the National Firearms Act, to include: Background check of owner and any transferee; type and serial number of the firearm; positive identification, including photograph and fingerprint; certification from local law enforcement of identity and that possession would not violate State or local law; and dedicated funding for ATF to implement registration.”
Such a provision would be a grave mistake. It could force confrontations between now-legitimate gun owners (and more than half of all American households include a gun owner) and law enforcement agencies, it could create distrust of the worst sort claimed by conspiracy theorists, and in the end, it would be impossible to enforce.
History demonstrates this. In Feinstein’s home state of California, a 1989 assault weapons ban required similar “registration” of existing, legally purchased guns.
“Thousands of Californians are defying a ground-breaking state requirement that they register their military-style semiautomatic guns,” the New York Times reported in 1990. “As a one-year registration period draws toward an end on Dec. 31, only about 7,000 weapons of an estimated 300,000 in private hands in the state have been registered. This non-compliance has virtually nullified the first step of a March 1989 law.”
Actually, estimates of “assault weapons” were much higher — between 500,000 and 1 million. But the lack of compliance was telling.
The Times explained, “Many gun owners are calling their defiance an act of political protest in the tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. ‘If civil disobedience was good enough for Dr. King, it’s good enough for me,’ said Mike Wright, a member of Gun Owners React Committee, a private lobbying group. Like other members of the group, he said he was refusing to register his weapon, a Colt AR-15.”
Those civil dissenters knew what they were in for if caught: penalties ranging from fines to prison terms of up to 12 years.
At the time, police pledged not to “aggressively” pursue unregistered weapons, but said charges would be brought if they were discovered “in the course of other law enforcement activities.”
When a similar law was passed in New Jersey, compliance was around 10 percent, according to official estimates. That means new legislation made outlaws of 90 percent of previously law-abiding gun owners.
It’s right to have a national conversation about the role of guns in America. But making criminals out of law-abiding citizens, by enacting retroactive, onerous requirements, goes too far.