Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced. 

The underlying cause of that tragedy was the same as in Virginia Beach a few weeks ago:  A mentally unstable human being driven by perceived grudges to use deadly weapons against strangers and then commit suicide by cop.   This time we’re skipping any pretense of intelligent analysis or consensus and going straight to political posturing, given there’s an election in a few weeks.

None of Governor Ralph Northam’s eight recycled proposals would make us safe.  A total and enforced ban on private ownership of firearms might make a difference.  That would require repeal of the Second Amendment, which isn’t going to happen, and enforcing it could produce a bloodbath.  Absent full enforcement, it would do no good.  Even mandatory licensing (as now exists for concealed weapons) would be ignored by criminals and obeyed only by the law-abiding.

Lacking real solutions, there are plenty of pretend fixes in the Northam news release.  One bullet point starts with “Legislation to ban dangerous weapons.”  Please list which weapons are considered safe, Governor.  The modifier is meaningless, as by definition no weapon is safe.  If your goal really is no weapons at all, Governor, put in that bill.

The counterclaims that will come next week are also nonsensical.  No, giving more people the right to carry concealed weapons or allowing guns by right in all public spaces will not make us safer.  That includes this new bill allowing all state and local employees a broad right to carry a concealed weapon.   It likely would make us all more civil when speaking with civil servants who have upset us.

While prohibiting suppressors or large magazines won’t matter, neither would expanding their use.  There is no Second Amendment right to own those.  They exist to improve the process of killing people.  Whether those bills pass or fail is of zero interest to me and I suspect many others.  Bad guys will have them.

What Democrats really want, as illustrated by this Blue Virginia piece and others like it, is just a bunch of roll calls to use in their campaigns.  Killing these bills, which have been killed before, in a small subcommittee again leaves most legislators out of the nose-count.  Not long ago plenty of Democrats were equally happy to stay away from taking recorded votes.

The one idea on the Governor’s list that might get most attention is what the Governor wants to call an Extreme Risk Protective Order and the opponents call a Red Flag Law, where a citizen is disarmed – perhaps forcibly disarmed after forced entry – with due process allowed after the fact, if at all.  The results on that from other states are not encouraging, and proponents have resisted any compromise version where the due process comes first.

As with so many things, the problem is we the people.  If we suspect somebody is deranged and armed, are we willing to turn them in?  Many are still wondering who knew what about the Virginia Beach murderer.  Is it fear of being sued that prevents that, or fear of violent retribution?  In some high-crime neighborhoods it appears the reluctance of potential witnesses is the main barrier to prosecution and progress.  It is clear reluctant witnesses exist to the recent killing of a young child in a Richmond park.

Are we willing to discuss the role of constant violence in the media, in video games, and in music as frames of reference and models of behavior for too many young people?  No, we won’t go down that road.  Parents don’t want to hear they need to control their children’s exposure.  Powerful and rich forces will tell us there is no evidence of harm, using the same tactics favored by those who told us cigarettes and sugary soft drinks won’t kill you.

Neither Virginia nor the nation are ready for a real conversation about changing the culture of violence and silence, equally responsible for the mass workplace shooting or the all-too-routine single victim shooting on a neighborhood street or outside a bar or road rage shootings.  Our culture of violence is equally responsible for murders with knives or, as in Richmond recently, motor vehicles.  Guns are just more efficient tools.

The issue is so perfectly partisan now that voters can and will assume all Democrats support regulating or banning guns and all Republicans do not.  It is ancient and forgotten history that Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association was once legislative aide to a pro-gun Virginia Democrat.   The partisan polarization has freed extremes at both ends.

Legislators, challengers, campaign media folks, you have all you need for your Facebook ads, direct mail and robocalls, on both sides.  Save the Commonwealth the time and expense of next week’s Firearms Theater.  Keep it short. Save us the marches and protest signs, and the heated speeches at the Capitol bell tower. It’s just another political rerun.

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41 responses to “Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

  1. While I generally agree with this right up there are several items that are stupidly wrong. I’ll comment on one.
    “While prohibiting suppressors or large magazines won’t matter, neither would expanding their use.  There is no Second Amendment right to own those.”
    No right to own a large capacity magazine, how about a small capacity magazine, or how about a bullet, or, are we only allowed to own flintlocks??
    No we are allowed to own arms, weapons one carries and operates with one’s hands. That would include all parts of the arms, be it the trigger, the bolt, the bullet, the magazine, suppressors, bipods, flashlight, red dot sights, laser pointer, scope, grips, and just about any gadget one can think of to add on..
    I know many try to limit the second amendment but any half wit knows our founding fathers intended for us to own state of the art weapons,, if they didn’t then the case could easily be made that we should be limited to flintlocks..

    • Is there a Second Amendment right to own a fully automatic Thompson machine gun? Or any other true automatic? It’s been my week to be called stupid by the True Believers on other fronts, so please go ahead.

      • Yes, there is. The Second Amendment was designed to give citizens the same weapon capabilities as the government. “Well Regulated” has been defined as “well equipped”. By your definition, the writers of the Constitution and its Amendments would have limited their language to bows and arrows for citizens while the government was allowed flintlocks.

  2. Yep. Whatever side of this thing you come down on, this special session is a bad joke. I don’t know how much it costs to keep the Assembly in session in Richmond for a day, but I’d like to imagine the Governor and the legislative leadership of both parties donating at least that much to some well-regarded Richmond after-school enrichment program. Then maybe we could say that at least _something_ useful came out of this poorly-scripted piece of political theater.

  3. Read Caetano v. Massachusetts, 136 S. Ct. 1027 (2016).

    • Yep. The proponents should just go right to the heart of the matter and propose repeal of the Second Amendment. Nibbling around the edges is a waste. Settle the big question.

  4. so what are we supposed to do? Nothing? You really don’t need silencers or large capacity magazines or, really assault rifles and bump stocks. Every meaningful attempt at gun control has been repeatedly shot d0wn at birth by the GOP. Polls show that most Virginians believe that more controls are needed. As for the session, once again, are we supposed to do nothing. And if I were a family member of a gun violence victim, I’d be mightily offended by the snarky tone of this blog post. And I speak as one one who has had a gun since he was 12 years old.

    • “We just need to do something” has been a war cry of both sides for far too long. It’s easy to “just do something” especially when it’s based on visually emotional imagery like AR15s.

      The hard job we have to undertake is looking at mental health and catching at-risk Americans early for treatment – reducing suicides and murder suicides.. Solving inner city issues that lead to violence (the majority of gun crimes). The illegal drug trade and associated violence.

      Banning inanimate objects is an assault on individual liberties and is not even placing a bandaid on a broken arm.

  5. Steve, there are in fact a lot of things you can do to slow the flow of firearms to criminals, some of which are in the governor’s proposal. Proposals one three and four take direct aim at straw purchasers, and will significantly raise the cost of illegally obtaining a firearm, this reducing the demand. If you can’t buy a bump stock or flash suppressor, then unless you’ve got a top tier machine shop, you can’t get them.

    I’d contend that mandatory licensing and safe storage requirements would in fact make a significant, meaningful, impact on the supply of firearms for both criminals and some lone wolfs. Ive got a lot of friends who were happy to buy a handgun for their home, but would never have purchased it if they also had to buy a gun safe and store it properly. We know these measures work, because there’s been limited private ownership of heavy weaponry for years with virtually no usage by criminals and mass shooters. Needlesss to say, I don’t go to these friends houses with my children.

    Will any of these proposals prevent a Vegas? Hard to say, but I feel very confident that they’d slow the rate of infiltration of firearms into our society, which will ultimately all keep us safer.

  6. Bump stocks are now illegal under federal rules, and federal rules already require a permit to buy a suppressor legally, as I understand. The murderer in VB had his legally, didn’t he? Keeping guns away from your law-abiding friends by loading them up with rules is not going to help anybody, Wonderbread. The people who worry me ignore those rules. Idiots who leave guns unsecured have far more to fear than a criminal charge, and if they lack proper storage, the word idiot applies.

    Not nothing, Peter, not nothing at all. But the issue is what is in people’s hearts and not what is in their hands. Telling victims or victim families that these measures are solutions is a false promise, false hope, and I see no value in that. This will be just a political show and it will then happen again. What can people do to change the culture of violence and silence?

  7. You write ‘. . . large magazines won’t matter, neither would expanding their use. There is no Second Amendment right to own those. They exist to improve the process of killing people.’

    Why do police own so called ‘large [capacity] magazines? to improve its ability to kill people? Why is 10 good and 11 evil? Do you know the difference between shooting 30 rounds from three 10-round magazines compared to two 15-round magazines? About five seconds. The VT report even stated that the magazine capacity of the crazy killer was not an issue.

    Research before pontificating, please.

    • Of course police use large capacity magazines to improve their lethal punch in a real firefight. Why else would they carry them? I said ban them or not, it makes no difference, but let’s get real about what they are for.

    • “Already require a permit to buy a suppressor legally, as I understand”

      So you are willing to toss suppressors out on a whim because “they serve to improve the process of killing people” yet you actually have no idea about the basics of purchasing, transferring or otherwise owning a suppressor in the U.S.? There is no permit for owning suppressors. Which leads me to believe you don’t know anyone with a silencer, never shot with a silencer and certainly don’t own a silencer. So how can you speak from a position of authority?

      There are currently over 2 million silencers (suppressors) in the hands of U.S. citizens. If they were purchased “to improve the process of killing people” their would be a lot of quiet murders.

      Suppressors protect the hearing of shooters and bystanders beyond the capabilities of ear plugs and ear muffs. They reduce noise pollution that leads to public and private ranges being shut down. Silencers help with instructing students since the recoil, noise and flash are reduced and you can actually have a conversation at the same time.

      But the biggest reason to preserve suppressor rights? They are nothing more than a metal tube with washers, all of which can be bought and assembled after a trip to Home Depot. If criminals want them, they will have them easily.

  8. This is one of those very rare cases where I disagree with most everything Steve has said in his post. Anti-gun people want to take away other peoples’ guns. Don’t let them do it. Not by an inch or a mile, don’t let them steal your right to carry arms.

  9. If you want to stop straw purchases, prosecute, convict and imprison people who engage in straw purchases. I bet Governor Coonman (his friends’ words not mine) Northam doesn’t want to prosecute people who violate gun purchase laws just like he opposes mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of using a firearm in a felony. It’s easier in today’s woke society to go after ordinary people than it is to focus on those who break the law.

    And how about a discussion of the impacts of total deinstitutionalization of mentally ill people? We don’t need to go back to where we were 60 years ago but aren’t there people on the street who need fulltime mental health treatment?

    And, of course, let’s ignore the violence portrayed in entertainment. After all, those people make contributions to Democrats. Kids grow up thinking blowing away other people is just fine. But then when they do it in real life, we say the fault lies with the availability of guns. How many suburban moms are signing gun control petitions at the same time that their kids are playing games that reward the most bloody kills?

  10. Sorry to disappoint, Reed, but will admit (to you only) I’m following Jim’s orders and trying to keep the readership fired up during his vacation. But I don’t disagree with what I’ve written. As long as the Second Amendment stands, your basic right will be fine, and all the regulatory annoyances the left can propose are just that – annoyances, nothing more. They also won’t solve a single problem, period.

  11. You cannot legally own a full auto machine gun or a 50 cal weapon or a stinger missile or a bazooka or a 40mm grenade launcher . Is that an “infringement” on your 2nd amendment rights?

    What defines which weapons fall under the 2nd Amendment and which ones do not – and what is the criteria that decides whether they do or do not?

    I say it’s pretty clear why the Government says your 2nd amendment rights do not allow you to own certain “weapons” in large part because of their killing power.

    I do not hear the 2nd amendment rights folks arguing that they are being denied their right to own a full auto weapon, a 50 cal or a stinger missile but they do argue that high capacity magazines are a restriction. Where did they get what is or is not?

    I do not see an articulation in the Constitution as to what constitutes “arms” and I strongly suspect the folks who wrote the Constitution did not conceive of the sheer killing power of some weaponry now days.

    I’m not arguing for or against a specific thing other than to ask – do we believe that the killing power of a weapon is fair game for discussion and possible restrictions? It’s FUNNY – we actually had no such discussion much less a debate about 2nd amendment for bump stocks. Isn’t that a “restriction”? What happened to the NRA on that?

    • “You cannot legally own a full auto machine gun or a 50 cal weapon or a stinger missile or a bazooka or a 40mm grenade launcher . Is that an “infringement” on your 2nd amendment rights?”

      Actually, yes, you can legally own all of those things. You can buy and transfer all of them. Finding a company to sell you a stinger missile might be difficult, but it’s not against the law.

      • Well, if you are willing to accept the same level of regulation and licensing on handguns and hunting rifles as exist for machine guns, we’re done here. But I don’t think that’s what you mean. Probably the best argument for gun control out there is how few problems crop up with anybody holding a federal dealer’s license or even a Virginia concealed carry license. Just go with that, right?

  12. Did a little more research and suppressors are covered by federal law, have an age requirement of 21, but do not require any license. There is a special tax or fee paid when purchased legally, which again, my understanding is was the case with the Virginia Beach perpetrator. Of course they are bound to be available in the black market, too.

    ICYM, the RTD opinion section has three full pages, no art, no ads, just three pages top to bottom with letters on this topic.

    Also allowed a comment from a new contributor (welcome) inserted way, way up at the top with a claim that “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment actually was intended to mean “fully equipped.” Missed that in the Federalist Papers or any court case I’ve seen, but obviously that would gut the existing federal firearms laws. I always assumed it meant a militia which trained, disciplined and subject to its officers. And of course, in those circumstances we all want them fully equipped, as with the National Guard or the true Virginia militia (not to be confused with gun nuts in the woods pretending to be militia.) Nah, not buying that one, friend.

    • I appreciate your follow up of silencers. Thank you. As an aside, I run a weekly column called Silencer Saturday at

      I still disagree with you on the definition of “Well Regulated”. The National Guard and police forces for that matter are just extensions of the government and don’t represent the citizenry in terms of protection from tyranny. They answer to a government controlled department.

      The citizenry should be afforded their own means of self protection not connected to the government. Should training be involved? Yes. Required in order to be a right? No.

  13. As too often happens, I type first and Google after. The debates over the 2nd at the time of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are pretty interesting, and clearly the idea was an armed force free of federal control (clearly with discipline and at least some rudimentary, perhaps once or twice a year, training.) Did they envision citizens with machine guns and RPGs and maybe a neighborhood tank crew? A good question, but the federal laws on controlling those have stood the test of time.

  14. If one goes back to the Assize of Arms of Henry II in 1181, every man, according to his degree (station in life) was bound to have and bear, in the case of a national emergency, suitable arms. Even the poorest free man was required to have his helmet and sword, according to Maitland. The Statute of Westminster in 1285 readopted the same basic principles to create the militia. At minimum, a freeholder was required to have a bow and arrows for his use in the militia. His “betters” required to have more with all armed men being inspected twice a year.

    This clearly is historical precedent for the 2nd Amendment authorizing citizens to have a right to possess personal arms of current military grade.

  15. No part of the Bill of Rights is absolute. The Supreme Court has said there can even be some restrictions on the freedom of speech–the classic prohibition on shouting Fire! in a crowded theater. It is against the law to threaten the President, for another example. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that the provisions of the Second Amendment are absolute. At the very least, we should ban the possession and sale of automatic rifles and handguns. There is no reasonable justification to have those in general society. Yes, criminals will get them, but criminals also commit assault and we still make assault a crime.

    • “At the very least, we should ban the possession and sale of automatic rifles and handguns. There is no reasonable justification to have those in general society.”

      Absolutely and totally wrong!!!!!!!!

      Stop insulting your neighbors, by trying to turn them into irresponsible children, and criminals, and helpless dependents. They and we have an absolute right to protect themselves, and ourselves, and our families, and our communities.

    • Assault is a crime based on an action by a human. Possession of an inanimate object should never be restricted, the Bill Of Rights would not have supported limitations on the ownership of hard goods, why treat firearms that way?

      “Reasonable justification” – Be careful, that could be applied to all kinds of things that you actually might enjoy. Do you like sports cars? There’s no reasonable justification for anything that goes over 70mph. Tobacco, Twitter, alcohol, serrated knives, violent movies.

      Make misusing or criminal use of objects illegal. Not ownership.

      Not to mention, the use of fully automatic weapons and silencers in criminal acts is minuscule.

  16. Dick! Fully automatic weapons have been illegal without a federal license (hard to get, and easy to lose if you misbehave) since memories of Capone and Dillinger were fresh. No bill pending in the GA can or will be more restrictive with regard to those. You see a bad guy with those, drop a dime and send them away. That prosecution WILL happen.

    • Again. There is no license for fully automatic firearms. Please speak from a position of knowledge, not assumption.

    • OK! Forgive me for loose terminology. The correct term is semiautomatic assault rifles. They used to be banned by the federal government (constitutional), but that ban expired in 1994. Several states now ban their possession and sale.

      “Possession of an inanimate object should never be restricted.” Really? How about heroin, cocaine, or other dangerous drugs? How about dynamite without a permit? How about possession of burglar’s tools, which is an offense separate from actual burglary in Virginia and many other states? How about possession of hand grenades? What about possession of child pornography?

      • I know what semi-automatic is. I know what automatic is. Both can be and are defined. But what is an assault rifle? How does one describe it by its functionality? I’ve heard educated adults say, “I don’t like the looks of that rifle. It’s scary looking. It should be banned.” To me that’s like saying, “Teenagers in hoodies scare me. We need to keep them off the street.”

      • If adults want to abuse their bodies with drugs, go right ahead. Why should we care what they do to themselves?

        Explosives are borderline, because they can break down on their own and become dangerous without user intervention.

        Burglars tools? Like the entire tool section at Home Depot?

        Child pornography? Really? You mean the evidence of the sexual abuse of a child? That’s not an inanimate object.

      • Semi auto rifles were banned by the federal government in 1994-2004? A constitutional amendment? Wow, the information posted here is terrible.

        The assault weapons ban of 1994 didn’t ban all semi automatic rifles, just certain features on some guns. And it wasn’t a constitutional amendment. The law sunset in 2004.

        An according to the FBI crime statistics, firearms related crime dropped after the 2004 law ended and has been declining ever since.

        You really shouldn’t speak with such authority if you don’t know what you are talking about.

  17. You’re right, I have no such weapons, no direct knowledge of the relevant federal rules. You can be prosecuted for ignoring those federal rules. In effect you and I are saying the same thing, the problem is people with evil intent and focusing on the tools they use is a waste of time.

  18. All this talk of good guys vs bad guys with guns makes me wonder. What happens when a so-called good guy with a gun (most likely with limited training) fires at a shooter and misses, killing a bystander?

    Are there criminal penalties? I’m pretty sure there would be severe civil penalties. The NRA probably sells insurance for that.

    • Sounds like it might be involuntary manslaughter – the unintentional killing of another that results from criminal negligence or recklessness, or from committing an offense such as a DUI. One to ten years.

  19. If I was a gun owner I would be extremely concerned about this. One mistake and you are in prison and probably bankrupt too. Something to think about.

  20. Well, 12 years after Virginia Tech, the GOP says we need to study gun control more.

    • In a very real sense, you could say they’ve put it to the voters. Fair enough. We all know one consequence of the coming election, one of many.

  21. Let’s look at Northam’s proposal to take away arms temporarily from people who may be dangerous to themselves or others. Conceptually, there is some merit to this proposal if it contains sufficient due process protections such as requiring a good prima facie case about the conditions of the target individual and not just allegations and a prompt hearing so that the target can challenge the allegations.

    But let’s look at Fairfax County. Presumably, it would participate in these efforts to remove guns temporarily even though it could require a non-consensual entry into a residence. But Fairfax County also refuses to use the statute that allows entry into a home, with an administrative warrant, where evidence of a zoning or health code violation exists and the owner refuses entry.

    The two regulatory schemes are quite similar. They can involve serious situations with risk to the resident and/or others; require some reasonable evidence of a bad situation and an unconsented entry into a private home. Yet, Fairfax County will probably use the firearms entry if permitted while it will not use another public safety entry mechanism. I’m no criminal defense lawyer but I’d sure argue the County is enforcing the laws unequally if I represented a gun owner. Circuit Court judges in Fairfax County will dismiss any panhandling cases because the firefighter do the same when they raise money for charity each Labor Day.

    We live in a real world and not a Wapo world. Selective enforcement of the law is wrong.

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