You’re reading that headline and thinking, “How does he propose taking those guns out of circulation, then? Magic?”
It’s the Underpants Gnomes theory of gun control:
1. Pass a mandatory buyback
3. Gun-free America
The “tell” in the clip that Booker is unserious about this beyond its utility as left-wing virtue-signaling is his reference to the federal machine-gun ban in the 1980s. We’ll just do it now like we did it then, he insists cheerily, as if the situations are analogous. The law that Congress passed in 1986 banned the manufacture of new machine guns, though. It didn’t prohibit ownership of older ones, which would have required confiscating guns that are already in circulation. To this day, I believe, it remains legal in the United States to own an automatic weapon that was produced before 1986 if you have a clean record and you’re willing to pay the big, big bucks required to purchase one. So when Booker says we should follow the 1986 model on confiscation, the correct answer is: Uh, what 1986 model?
But even if he were right that the 1986 law had prohibited ownership of machine guns and led to confiscation, the problem of confiscating assault weapons is an order of magnitude greater. Because access to machine guns was restricted in 1934, the number that remained in circulation as of 1986 was relatively small. By comparison, the number of assault weapons in circulation today is estimated at 16 million. No country in the world has tried a mandatory buyback program on a scale like that. In fact, only two countries — Australia and New Zealand, each with many fewer people and many, many, many fewer guns — have tried any sort of buyback program. The logistical challenges in confiscating American guns would be much steeper:
A buyback can’t work if people refuse to participate. As New Zealand’s continues, reports have described compliance rates as unclear at best, and low at worst, a risk American legislators, too, would have to contend with. In recent years, states including Connecticut, New York, and California have passed laws mandating that assault weapon owners register their firearms. Each has faced extremely low compliance rates: reportedly around 15 percent in Connecticut, and below 5 percent in New York and California. Tony Guglielmo, a Republican state senator from Connecticut, told The Hartford Courant that many assault-rifle-owners were flatly ignoring the law.
Any buyback would require local buy-in. Whether or not a federal agency administers the program, state, county, or city entities would probably run collections, as they have in various local buybacks across the country dating back to the mid-70s. Dr. Michael Hirsh, a pediatric trauma surgeon at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, has run local gun buyback programs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts since 1994. He said that collection in a national buyback should mirror local efforts, in which city police designate collection sites and accept weapons no-questions-asked to encourage compliance. “The only major impediment to local buybacks in the past has been funding,” he said. “That’s the real problem that federal involvement would solve.”
What happens if/when gun owners aren’t relinquishing their guns and red-state local officials decide they’re not going to devote resources to carry out a left-wing confiscation regime?
The whole thing is nonsense. Democrats wouldn’t have the votes to pass a buyback program, I suspect, even if they regained total control of government next year and eliminated the filibuster. They would fear the electoral backlash in the following midterms too much; the furthest they’d go is to dangle the idea of a buyback and then ultimately drop it as a “concession” to gun owners before passing a ban on the manufacture of new assault weapons instead. All Booker’s doing here is flirting with the left at a moment when he’s trying to gain traction in the primary.
Update: Whoops, fixed a typo above that said it was “illegal” to own machine guns made before 1986. I meant to write “legal.”
.@CoryBooker on banning assault weapons: “Yeah, it’s mandatory. You have to set up a system to pull them off. But this idea, this imagery that the fearmongers and demagogues try to say of somehow armed police officers showing up & confiscating weapons, that’s the fear mongering.” pic.twitter.com/KAw8gO8d6w
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 13, 2019