A recent news story demonstrates the dangers of letting the government know who owns guns and determine who is permitted to own them. The state of California “requires most weapons sales go through a licensed dealer and be reported,” writes Bloomberg, and it sends agents around to confiscate weapons from people the state has decided are unfit to possess them, “including convicted felons, those under a domestic violence restraining order, or deemed mentally unstable.”
“The no-gun list is compiled by cross-referencing files on almost 1 million handgun and assault-weapon owners with databases of new criminal records and involuntary mental-health commitments,” the report explains. “About 15 to 20 names are added each day, according to the attorney general’s office.”
Note that having actually used a gun in the commission of a crime is not a necessary prerequisite for a person to be judged by the state to be unfit to possess one. Merely falling into a category of persons the state deems too dangerous to possess a gun is sufficient. (While judges usually won’t issue search warrants for guns under such circumstances, agents can “talk their way into a residence to look for weapons,” and “often” do, according to Bloomberg.)
But why should a person be prohibited from defending himself simply because he ran afoul of the state in the past? The Second Amendment, after all, unequivocally states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Obviously the Founders didn’t believe that there should be any exceptions to this rule, and with good reason: even ex-convicts and the mentally ill have the right to defend themselves against common criminals and tyrannical governments.
Furthermore, letting the state carve out exceptions almost guarantees that the exceptions will grow to encompass more and more people over time, leaving fewer and fewer able to resist tyranny.
The number of felonies, for instance, has certainly multiplied in recent years, encompassing all kinds of non-crimes, such as marijuana possession and insider trading. California could disarm most of its citizens without changing its gun laws at all; it would simply have to expand the list of felonies to include even more peaceful activities. As more of its people were convicted of felonies, fewer would be permitted to own guns.
The mental-health exception is even more troubling. Judging another person’s mental state is always a highly subjective matter. One California woman whose guns — including those registered to her husband, who now is also essentially forbidden to defend himself — were confiscated because she was briefly involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in December told Bloomberg “the nurse who admitted her had exaggerated the magnitude of her condition.”
“I do feel I have a right to purchase a gun,” the woman said. “I’m not a threat. We’re law-abiding citizens.”
Of course, many people who have genuine mental illnesses are likely to deny or downplay them, but the fact remains that giving the state the power to deny weapons to those it has declared mentally unstable is exceedingly dangerous. As William F. Jasper observed in The New American,
A sizable percentage of the membership of most gun rights groups would fall into categories that the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies have been demonizing for years. Following the lead of radical left-wing groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the DHS and FBI have been promiscuously affixing the “right-wing extremist,” “anti-government,” “hate group,” and “terrorist” labels to millions of law-abiding Americans. Military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, pro-life grandmothers, Christians who voice opposition to homosexuality, people who support states’ rights and oppose federal usurpations, opponents of the United Nations, people who express concern over illegal immigration: All of these and more have been repeatedly designated by federal agencies as dangerous “extremists.” President Obama himself, during his 2008 campaign, infamously sneered at the small-town and rural folk who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment.”
They are obviously in need of counseling by mental-health professionals, right? And in the meantime, until (if ever) they are deemed no longer a danger to themselves or society, they must not be allowed to own any firearms or to have any firearms in their homes. That’s only sensible, right?
That governments would redefine “mental illness” to include those with opinions the ruling class dislikes is hardly even debatable. As a prelude to the Holocaust, the Nazis — who took advantage of and expanded on existing gun-control laws to disarm the German people — used “feeblemindedness” as a criterion for sterilizing persons they deemed unfit to reproduce. It is no surprise, noted Robert Jay Lifton in The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, that
political considerations affected diagnoses and decisions — as was made clear by a directive from Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary and close associate, instructing that the moral and political behavior of a person be considered in making a diagnosis of feeblemindedness. The clear implication was that one could be quick to label “feebleminded” a person seen as hostile to the Nazis, but that one should be cautious indeed about so labeling an ideologically enthusiastic Party member.
Obviously, California has not gone to those extremes yet, but the laws and precedents exist for disarming as many of its residents as the state chooses. Already there are nearly 20,000 gun owners in the state who the government says may not own weapons. The California Justice Department seized about 2,000 weapons, 117,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11,000 high-capacity magazines last year, and Attorney General Kamala Harris wants to more than double the number of agents assigned to gun confiscation.
And make no mistake: If and when the large-scale confiscation arrives, it will all be done within the confines of the law. “We’re not contacting anybody who can legally own a gun,” supervising agent John Marsh told Bloomberg, dismissing concerns that the state was up to no good. But the state, of course, gets to define legal gun ownership, and it can change the laws at will.
Residents of the other 49 states should not take much comfort in the fact that California is currently the only state to systematically snatch guns from their owners. Bloomberg writes that Harris, a Democrat, “recommended that [Vice President Joe] Biden, heading a White House review of gun policy, consider California as a national model.” If the federal government were indeed to adopt the Golden State’s policy, there would be no escape from the clutches of the gun grabbers and consequently no effective defense against the Beltway Leviathan. Let’s hope that for once the old adage “as California goes, so goes the nation” does not hold true.