Two cops -- a man and woman -- stood at the door when the senior citizen opened it one afternoon in Middle Village, Queens. The female cop had her hand on the butt of her holstered handgun.
"You registered a couple of rifles last year," the female cop explained. "But you didn't register this year. Are the guns still in your home?"
This is the reality of gun control in New York City, according to my uncle.
The above scenario occurred a few years ago. My uncle told the cops he didn't register them because they were stored at a friend's house in New Jersey. (I didn't disrespect Uncle Bob by asking him whether he'd told the cops the truth.)
"Mind if we come in and look around?" one of the cops asked.
Uncle Bob, ever mindful of his civil rights, told the cops to take a hike unless they had a warrant.
This story is never far from my thoughts in any debate on gun control.
Could mental-health evaluations really become a prerequisite for firearm ownership? If so, New York would probably be among the first states to try it. New York City's handgun restrictions are pretty close already. (As the anecdote shows, the state's not exactly mellow about long guns, either.)
If you move from New York to Arizona, your freedoms expand. But if you move from Arizona to New York City, one thing you'll have to do is question whether it's worth it to bring your handguns. If you do bring them, it'll cost you a yearly fee for each one. Handguns have to stay in your home, for the most part. All this assumes you first were approved for a handgun license.
A New York Police Department Web site explains all the different ways you might be disqualified from obtaining a license:
A history of arrest or conviction, depending upon the severity of the charges and the amount of time that has elapsed since your last arrest or conviction.
Your failure to disclose your full criminal history, including sealed arrests, on your application;
A history of domestic violence incidents;
A history of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI, DWI, DWAI);
Your failure to cooperate with the investigation of your application;
A poor DMV history, including moving violations, failure to appear and answer summonses or failure to pay fines.
This list is not exclusive. If your investigation results in a determination that you lack character and fitness for a license or permit, your application will be denied.
Gee, you're a scofflaw? A crappy driver? You've got two DUIs on your record? No handgun for you.
The last two sentences are key in showing an arbitrariness to the system. Bureaucrats decide you "lack character and fitness" for the license, and your privilege of owning a handgun disappears.
The part about disclosing your sealed criminal history means extra hoops to jump through if you were ever arrested:
License Division rules require all applicants to disclose their arrest history and submit a Certificate of Disposition showing the offense and dispostion of the charges, along with a notarized statement describing the circumstances surrounding each arrest. This information must be provided even if the case was dismissed, the record sealed or the case nullified by operation of law. Failure or refusal to disclose this information will result in the disapproval of your application for a license or permit.
Have fun finding that "Certificate of Disposition" for your arrest 20 years ago and writing the notarized description of the incident.
I admit that New York City's methods might well have stopped Jared Lee Loughner. It's a worthy debate, considering whether such a system -- or something even more draconian -- might be better than what we have now.
But we have to ask: Do we want or need gun-control laws like New York's, or stricter? I say no -- as I said earlier today in my blog post/diatribe on mental health evaluations. Our treasured readers, undoubtedly, have their own opinions.
My colleague and water-cooler debate opponent, Stephen Lemons, contends not only that I've made a straw-man argument, but even worse, that I'm wrong. (He may talk of straw-man arguments, but we're still trying to figure out who he means when he wrote "there are many out there who demand carte blanche. They want what they want, and they don't seem too troubled when other members of society have to deal with the bloody consequences.")
Lemons quotes Dan Vice of the Brady Campaign, who dutifully tells him the campaign has no intention of lobbying for something like a mental health evaluation prior to a gun sale. That may even be true.
Then again, the campaign has been having trouble passing more innocuous measures in the past few years, and it's had setbacks, such as the advance of "castle doctrine" laws and two key U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The campaign has been forced by the National Rifle Association to lower its sights. But like many activist groups, including the NRA, the Brady Campaign needs to keep coming up with ideas in the future to energize its fundraising needs. I'll go out on a limb and assume most Brady supporters would want New York-style handgun restrictions, at least.
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Two other points about Lemons' rebuttal:
* Motor vehicles are more dangerous than guns, so more restrictions and training are needed. Even then, sometimes accidents happen that take out large numbers of victims.
* Lemons isn't concerned about the price of guns for consumers or the impact of restrictions on the firearms industry, but only because he'd rather see a much smaller industry selling firearms that few could afford. He doesn't mind regulatory ideas that would reduce the number of firearms in society -- that's one of the goals of gun-control advocates. Clearly, anyone thinking of buying a gun in the future should be wary of plans that would not only drive the cost up, but lead toward a more restrictive environment for owning or using the gun.
If gun-control advocates have their way, the cops might come to your doorstop someday, asking about your guns. Like they do in New York.