In a debate with CNN host Piers Morgan last week, Newt Gingrich was asked whether the Second Amendment guarantees the right to possess automatic weapons. Basically, he said no, it does not.
“I think .50-caliber machine guns would be bizarre,” Gingrich said. “And I’m happy to say that those rules seem to work fairly well.”
It’s an interesting admission. Like many others on the right, Gingrich accepts and even embraces the power of government to effectively ban possession of .50 caliber machine guns and other automatic weapons. Yet somehow, he believes that under the Second Amendment, the government has no similar power to ban semi-automatic assault weapons.
But where does he find that constitutional distinction between automatic and semi-automatic? What textual basis in the Second Amendment would allow government to heavily regulate and in effect ban one type of weapon, while prohibiting similar regulation of others?
Just to review, the text of the amendment states, in its entirety:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The truth is that no such distinction exists in the amendment text or in any other writings of the Founding Fathers. Gingrich and others base their position solely on their own gut-level feeling that, as the ex-speaker puts it, “.50-caliber machine guns would be bizarre.” He is clearly not making a constitutional argument, although he may try to cloak it in that language. He is making a personal judgment about what he believes should or should not be allowed.
Yet if others make a similar argument regarding assault weapons and 30-round magazines, they are accused of trying to rewrite the Constitution.
And what about those rules regarding fully automatic weapons that “seem to work fairly well,” as Gingrich put it?
Under a law signed by that notorious gun-grabber Ronald Reagan, U.S. citizens can legally possess an automatic weapon only if the weapon was built and registered with the government prior to 1986. No weapons built after that date can be added to the registry that makes them eligible for civilian ownership.
As the word “registry” implies, the federal government knows who owns every one of these weapons. Such a registry is supposed to be the first step to confiscation and tyranny, yet except among the hard-core militia types, it is an uncontroversial and accepted form of regulation.
Furthermore, anyone who seeks to buy one of those grandfathered automatic weapons must undergo a complete FBI background check and be fingerprinted before receiving permission from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local law enforcement to acquire the firearm. (NOTE: This paragraph has been corrected since its original posting.)
And to repeat Gingrich’s verdict, “those rules seem to work fairly well.” He’s right. They do. Registered automatic weapons in private hands are rarely if ever used in crime. And by rarely, I mean maybe two or three times in the last quarter century.
In other words, all the rhetoric aside, it offers a statistically proven example of how gun control works.
– Jay Bookman