Why stop at assault weapons?

    Are we going far enough permitting the sale of assault rifles to civilians?

    Maybe we should be selling 50-caliber machine guns, anti-tank weapons, or tanks and armored personnel carriers for those that can afford them.

    The thought occurred to me when I read this piece in the New York Times by Erica Goode and Sheryl Gay Stolberg about the way gun laws inhibit federal agencies’ ability to track weapons and prevent them from releasing basic information about their use in crimes.

    You’d think in the digital age it would be easy for detectives to trace guns used in crimes. Instead,

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    When law enforcement officers recover a gun and serial number, workers at the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)’s National Tracing Center here — a windowless warehouse-style building on a narrow road outside town — begin making their way through a series of phone calls, asking first the manufacturer, then the wholesaler and finally the dealer to search their files to identify the buyer of the firearm.

    About a third of the time, the process involves digging through records sent in by companies that have closed, in many cases searching by hand through cardboard boxes filled with computer printouts, hand-scrawled index cards or even water-stained sheets of paper.

    Congressional restrictions make it illegal for the ATF to share basic information with state and local law enforcement and the pubic. And as Tom Diaz explained recently on “Fresh Air,” laws enacted by gun enthusiasts bar the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from analyzing gun crime data to inform policy debate.

    You have to wonder — why would legitimate gun owners want to so restrict the government’s ability to record sales and track weapons that it impedes law enforcement and policy research? If you’re buying weapons for hunting, personal protection or target shooting, why would you fear those legitimate purchases going into a national data base?

    Keeping our powder dry

    Gun control advocates say such restrictions are the work of gun manufacturers who believe less information is better, because real data analysis would undermine their case for unrestricted gun sales.

    But there’s one reason some citizens might not want the government knowing where privately-owned guns are, and that’s because they might need them some day to resist the government itself.

    For most of us, this is a pretty far-fetched notion, the province of survivalists and paint-ball militias.

    But it’s hard to dismiss completely. Our nation began with an armed citizen uprising, and while most of us can’t imagine a government oppressive enough to justify insurrection at the moment, who knows what might happen decades from now?

    The problem with this logic is that to protect citizens’ capacity to rise up against the government, we’d have to permit not just assault rifles, but heavier weapons, too. Rebels in the modern age won’t be facing redcoats with muskets. They’ll need military weapons – heavy, armor-piercing stuff, rocket-propelled grenades, the works.

    And of course if all that hardware is available to citizens, then the mob, the cartels, the gang bangers, and everybody else will have it too.

    So we have a policy choice to make. It seems to me the rational course is to embrace the notion that our representative democracy, with all its warts and imperfections, will be the instrument of our popular will, not our weapons.

    I hope when Congress gets beyond the fiscal cliff hanging, they’ll remove existing restrictions on the ATF and the CDC, so we can have real data and make sensible decisions about gun control.

    Let the insurrectionists shoot paint balls. 

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