The dead of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton are not yet buried. However, that has not stopped some of the Democratic presidential candidates from proposing their “common sense” gun laws. Prominent among those making such proposals are former Vice President Joe Biden, the front runner, and one of his more leftist competitors, California Senator Kamala Harris. Biden would institute gun buybacks while Kamala Harris would send police to seize banned weapons. Both proposals involve so-called “military-style assault rifles.”
Biden sat down with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and opened his mind about what his buyback scheme would entail.
Mediaite reports that the former vice president said, “Does anybody think it made any sense that someone can walk into a gun store, buy an assault weapon that has multiple rounds or buy an assault weapon that has 100 rounds? Do you want more of them on the street? Do we want to do that?”
When Anderson Cooper asked whether this would entail police knocking on the doors of gun owners and rummaging through gun cases, Biden denied that this would be the case. While new sales of so-called “assault rifles” would be banned, existing stocks would be eliminated under a presumably voluntary buyback program.
Kamala Harris was not quite as finicky about giving gun owners a choice. The Washington Examiner noted that Harris would send police to peoples’ homes who would demand that people turn over their banned guns. Also, she would send police to enforce so-called Red Flag orders, designed to separate people found to be a danger to themselves and others from their firearms. People who have been convicted of a crime would also have their firearms confiscated.
CNBC notes that there exists a difference of opinion over what constitutes an “assault weapon.” The gun industry notes that for a rifle to be classified as an “assault weapon” it has to be capable of automatic fire, which is to say that it continues to shoot as long as the user pulls the trigger.
Some politicians feel that a rifle is an assault weapon if it looks like one, even if it remains only capable of semi-automatic fire, i.e. firing a single bullet with each pull of the trigger. The AR-15, one of the most popular long guns in the United States, is often seen as an example, even though it has no more capability to kill people than an analogous firearm with a wooden stock.
Gun control advocates also maintain that a “large-capacity magazine,” loosely defined, can make a rifle an “assault weapon.”
A gun buyback program entails law enforcement paying gun owners money if they voluntarily turn in their weapons. The idea is that the more weapons that are bought from private citizens, the fewer there will be available for an insane person to kill large numbers of people. Certain local governments have tried such programs, so Biden is proposing to institute it on a national level.
The problem is, as Governing.com noted, gun buyback programs don’t work.
”Three decades ago local governments launched gun buyback programs in a bid to cut crime. It was a simple proposition: Sell your gun to the city for cash, no questions asked. The events became so prevalent across the country that public health researchers decided to test whether they actually reduced crime. Their conclusion? Not really.”
As Newsweek more recently noted, it is not hard to understand why gun buyback programs have proven to be ineffective.
For one thing, some people try to game the system by turning in broken or older firearms and then turning around and buying newer weapons. The buyback program does not reduce the number of guns in private hands.
Also, people who are most likely to use firearms in the commission of a crime, say people with criminal records and people with mental health issues, are understandably reluctant to interact with law enforcement.
Legal scholars have problems with Sen. Harris’ idea of sending police door to door to take away people’s firearms. The proposal likely would not pass either the 2nd Amendment or 4th Amendment muster. The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Biden and Harris are making proposals in the spirit of being seen as “doing something” to prevent further mass casualty gun massacres. Whether or not they are effective, as gun rights advocates note, is beside the point.