The Extremes of U.S. Gun Laws: From a Few Restrictions to Mandated Ownership

Philip Bump

The spectrum of political responses to gun violence is neatly defined by two policy measures that advanced over the last 24 hours: new gun registration, permits and paperwork in Connecticut and in a Georgia small town mandatory ownership. That these are the poles, though, suggests that opponents of new gun laws have already largely won.

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Connecticut legislators announced an agreement on Monday night that would restrict the availability of certain types of weapons and ammunition and limit ownership of each. The Associated Press describes the proposed package:

The Connecticut deal includes a ban on new high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six educators dead. There are also new registration requirements for existing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets …

The package also creates what lawmakers said is the nation's first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, creates a new "ammunition eligibility certificate," imposes immediate universal background checks for all firearms sales, and extends the state's assault weapons ban to 100 new types of firearms and requires that a weapon have only one of several features in order to be banned.

People who currently own banned weapons would not be forced to give them up, only to register them with the state. This is how the conservative website Drudge Report characterized the Connecticut proposal:

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Reaction elsewhere on the right has been surprisingly muted, perhaps because some stringent new policies were broadly expected, given the Democratically-controlled legislature in the state and, of course, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The Huffington Post reports that the package will almost certainly be approved tomorrow, and is likely to be signed into law by Gov. Dan Malloy.

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Notably, though, Connecticut's proposal would create the strongest gun laws in the country. While it's not clear that the proposal would have halted the shooting in Newtown (as noted by its opponents), the legislation is obviously focused around making such incidents at the very least much more difficult. It's also an attempt to reduce gun crime in the state, which, as in most states, is centered in its large cities.

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Then there's Nelson, Georgia — population of slightly over 1,300 people. Set in Pickens County, where Mitt Romney won 83 percent of the vote last November, the city council there voted unanimously Monday night to approve an ordinance mandating that the head of every household own a gun and ammunition, as Politico reported yesterday. Need ammo? Go for it.

Nelson exempted felons and people with some mental or physical disabilities. Oh, and basically anyone who didn't want to participate. And the city doesn't really plan to enforce the measure. The vote was largely a symbolic demonstration, a unanimous vote aimed at showing solidarity with advocates of gun ownership. As the Politico article notes, the town has one policeman. Its last murder was more than five years ago. The local sheriff submits its crime data to CrimeReports.com; here's every crime reported in Nelson since last October. "T" is for theft; "A" is for assault; "TV", theft from a vehicle.

The response to Nelson's proposal by partisans has been similarly muffled. This is certainly in part because it's a small town in Georgia, with similarly predictable politics. But it's also because the Nelson measure is not a new marker in the gun debate. The NRA, as an industry lobbying arm for firmarm manufacturers, basically advocates the same position in American politics: everyone should own a gun. There is not really an political force calling for confiscation of existing guns, just restrictions on selling them and buying more ammunition.

Obviously, those who seek to limit the number of guns in America face a hard stop at a Second Amendment which has been broadly interpreted by the Supreme Court — not to mention the NRA, which will "unveil" its School Shield program today.