by Larry Pratt
Founder and Executive Director
Gun Owners of America
Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said:
"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men
of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."
Well, amen! How true. And a current example that proves, with a vengeance,
what Brandeis feared, is a bill (S.2099) introduced by U.S. Senator Jack Reed
(D-RI) which would, among other things, tax and register our handguns.
His legislation would treat handguns much as machine guns:
(1) require the registration of handguns in the National Firearms
Registration and Transfer record;
(2) provide for the sharing of registration information with Federal, State
and local law enforcement agencies;
(3) provide for the imposition of the five dollar transfer tax on handguns
and a $50 tax on the making of each handgun.
To be sure, Reed is well-meaning and zealous. But, in an interview with the
Rhode Island Democrat, it becomes obvious that when it comes to "gun
control" and the Second Amendment to our Constitution, he is without
understanding. And this is why he is so dangerous to our liberties. Following
are some excerpts from the interview with Sen. Reed:
Q: What evidence would you cite that any gun control law has ever worked?
A: "Well, I think some evidence is the original Federal laws that
regulate the registration of machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers.
There's not a proliferation of those weapons on our streets, not anything
compared to the handguns that are awash in the United States.
"And there is no evidence that these weapons have been confiscated
arbitrarily. In fact, there are legitimate bona fide gun owners that have these
weapons and fire them regularly, as they are registered. So, that's an example
of one that works. The Brady background check is...."
Q: OK. But, let's stop on this one. Is there a study you can refer me to that
shows the registration law you just mentioned actually reduced crime?
A: "Uhhh, I think... we'll certainly look for a study. But I would guess
this is more on the order of observation and what's going around. I mean,
frankly, it is the rare exception when someone has an automatic weapon, a
Q: But, do you know of any evidence that this registration law you mention
has reduced machine-gun crime? I didn't know there was a lot of this.
A: "Well, back in 1930 was when the law was passed. This law has been on
the books for 60 years. I don't think most people realize that. They assume that
there's never been any registration of weapons at the Federal level, that this
is a bold and novel approach when in fact Congress more than 60 years ago...
simply said, 'This is a threat to the public safety and we're going to stop
Q: You don't think Al Capone really obeyed that law do you?
A: "Uhhh, well, you know, if he didn't he would have gone to jail on
that as well as tax evasion."
Note: Several weeks after this interview, Reed's office failed to produce any
evidence that the anti-machine gun law he mentions had any impact on the crime
Q: Brady. You were going to mention the Brady Law.
A: "I think the Brady bill has shown a reduction in... I don't know if
you can make the correlation to a reduction in crime [which has been reduced]
because of difficult measures. But, what Brady has uncovered is a number of
felons who were trying to purchase weapons... and they have been prevented from
doing that. In that sense, it's been successful."
Q: I press you on this gun control laws issue because my pre-supposition is
that behind all such laws is the desire to reduce crime, reduce the illegal use
of guns, right?
A: "The idea is to reduce violent gun crime."
Q: Yeah, that's what I mean.
A: "Yeah, yeah."
Q: The Journal of the American Medical Association has recently published a
detailed study which shows there is no evidence the Brady Law has had any effect
on gun crime, on homicides. Are you familiar with this study?
A: "I'll become familiar with it. We've seen a decline in violent
Q: Which started before Brady, actually.
A: "Yeah. And I would be the first to say that crime is not a single
factor phenomenon. It's a whole bunch of things. But, again, in trying to be not
as analytical and scientific, but just in terms of human behavior, the ease of
obtaining weapons is such that there's a higher likelihood that something
before, you know, a scuffle between kids could escalate now to a shoot-out.
"A lot of this is anecdotal. But, up in Rhode Island, about a year ago,
two kids out rough-housing...."
Q: How old? What are you calling a kid?
A: "Sixteen or 17. They were rough-housing. Somebody's pride was
injured... somebody in the crowd, because of the ease of getting handguns, kid
pulls a gun out and shoots seriously injuring one individual. And then [the
shooter] takes his own life."
Q: I think anecdotes are important. They are real life. But, what law would
have stopped this?
A: "Well, I, you know...."
Q: I don't think any law would have stopped that.
A: "Well, no, I think... if there is a registration law -- if someone
gets a gun without registering it they're a criminal by definition."
Q: But, criminals are not going to commit crimes with guns registered in
their own names.
A: "Well, but the point is, and one of the points of this legislation
(S. 2099) is that this will allow law enforcement officials to better be able to
trace weapons used by criminals in crime.
"And I think the proto-typical person that we all want to see exercise
their rights as Americans to... and one right is to own weapons -- are
homeowners, people who are recreational shooters or hunters, those people will
register their weapons, et cetera.
"But, frankly, if a police officer comes across a crime scene, and there
is a weapon, he now has a much faster and better way to trace that weapon. Oh,
and by the way, if he observes someone who is involved in some type of criminal
activity or probable cause to suspect, and the weapon is not registered, that
person is guilty of another crime."
Q: But, if we agree, as we did earlier, that gun-control laws are supposed to
stop crime, your supposed benefits of registration come after a crime is
committed. So what? So what if you find out who a gun is registered to? I know
of no evidence that registration has prevented crime. Do you?
A: "The point is to have a system in which police can trace weapons more
quickly, that criminals... this raises the barrier for them to get weapons. And
then you have to make an assessment whether that's high enough to deter all gun
crime. Frankly, it would be naive to say that. But, I...."
Q: But, when has a registration law ever reduced violent gun crime?
A: "Well, I would say the law we have on the books now on registration
has significantly limited access by criminals and other people to machine guns,
silencers, and sawed-off shotguns without effecting the rights of law-abiding
Americans to own these weapons. This might be the only correlation you can
"Here's the scenario (re: S. 2099): This law passes and some law-abiding
American registers their handgun at home. There's a domestic dispute and someone
uses the weapon to hurt someone else.
"You would ask, 'Has this law stopped crime?' And I'd agree the
gun-crime was not stopped. But what it might have stopped... or at least
impeded... is someone stealing that gun and selling it to somebody else and no
one knowing any the wiser about it. Or someone breaking in and taking the gun,
et cetera. So, I mean, you know...."
Q: But, why would your registration law stop a thief from breaking in and
stealing a gun since the gun would not be registered in the name of the thief?
Why would a thief care about this?
A: "I think they'd care just like someone who goes in and steals a car
that is registered. There's a record of who owns that car and they ain't the one
who owns it."
Q: But, why would a criminal care if the gun he steals is registered to
A: "[The gun] would be less easily disposable if there is a registration
Q: But would a criminal really commit a crime with a gun registered in his
A: "Uh, but that might be another disincentive to committing the crime.
I mean, you have this theory that hardened criminals are going to get weapons
any way they can."
A: "Kill anybody they can, etc. And they'll never take into
consideration what the law is."
Q: Right. And that's why they are criminals! Because they don't care what the
A: "No, they do in fact consider how to get around the laws, how to
break them without getting caught. And frankly [registration] is another way,
like giving the police authority to register automobiles and more of an ability
to trace stolen vehicles and a sense that people don't just casually borrow cars
because, you know, it could have been their's. No one knows."
Q: Your car-gun registration analogy is interesting. But, I wonder if
registration has actually deterred car theft since within hours after many cars
are stolen they are chopped up and sold for parts and/or they are on a boat
being shipped to Brazil.
A: "But, I think your premise is that no gun-control laws have ever had
any effect on crime or the level of violence in the country."
Q: Exactly. But, the burden of proof is on those who argue that gun-control
laws have been effective.
A: "The burden of proof is on those who say we should do nothing when
30,000 Americans die annually by gunfire... and in every other industrial
society in the world where they have much more stringent gun-control laws you do
not have this phenomenon of gun violence."
Q: Do you agree that under the Second Amendment individuals have the right to
keep and bear arms?
A: "In what, I mean... subject to regulation, yeah. Frankly, I think
there's a very strong argument that the Amendment as originally constituted had
to do about the arming of militias. But, at this point in time, I think practice
and custom and the history of the country suggests that access to weapons by
individuals is something that would be Constitutionally protected. The question
is: 'How can we regulate that access?'"
Q: What would you say to someone who would say that what you are advocating
[in S. 2099] are the kinds of infringement the Second Amendment prohibits?
Aren't registration of and taxing of guns an infringement on the Constitutional
right to keep and bear arms?
A: "I would say no, not at all. In fact, history suggests that we do it
all the time. We've been...."
Q: Well, there's no doubt Congress has been violating our Constitutional
rights for a long time!
A: "I would suspect also that the courts have looked at this question
and consistently upheld these firearms laws, particularly the registration
See what I mean? Sen. Jack Reed is without understanding. He has no evidence
that any "gun control" laws have ever worked. He's obviously not
familiar with the most detailed study which shows that Brady has been a flop.
Nor is he familiar with the rise in violent crime in England following its gun
He's introducing a law which clearly "infringes" on our rights
under the Second Amendment. But, he denies that taxing and registering are
infringements! The Senator is precisely the kind of person Associate Justice
Brandeis warned us about.
Larry Pratt is Executive Director of Gun Owners of America located at 8001
Forbes Place, Springfield, VA 22151 and at