President Joe Biden had a few words to say in his State of the Union address about how he intends to curb gun violence—definitely on the rise in the past couple of years—that meet the usual Democratic presidential standard of offering solutions that will largely harass the mostly innocent or do very little to save lives.
“I will keep doing everything in my power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home,” he insisted. “They have no serial numbers and can’t be traced.” True, but the technologies that allow the making of such guns (as well as the old-fashioned wiping numbers off existing ones) are not able to be curbed. Experience in California, which instituted such a ban a few years ago, already shows the futility of such laws, except in making life harder for hobbyists who would never harm anyone with their guns.
Even theoretically traceable guns used by criminals are, in the majority of cases, stolen or not obtained legally, so police rarely have information on file about them that would allow them to be easily traced to a shooter.
“I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence,” he added. “Pass universal background checks. Why should anyone on a terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon?” Burdening every private citizen who wants to sell a weapon with all the paperwork hoops a licensed gun dealer must go through seems sensible to many people. However, with a 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates finding only 25 percent of guns possessed by prisoners obtained from friends or family in a transaction that would theoretically fall under that law, and given how hard the law would be to enforce on such friends or family, the effect on guns in the hands of criminals is likely to be marginal.
Speaking of marginal effects, Biden also insisted he would like to “ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.” Although he ended his brief gun discussion insisting that “These laws don’t infringe on the Second Amendment. They save lives,” a federal court decision (since overturned) did present convincing arguments that the banning of a very commonly used item with relevance to self-defense in the home such as “high-capacity magazines” does violate the Second Amendment. The current Supreme Court would probably agree if the issue came before them.
Rifles of all sorts, of which so-called “assault weapons” are a subcategory based mostly on cosmetic features some legislators and activists find scary, are used in a tiny percentage of gun murders; previous attempts to ban the sale of new “assault weapons” from 1994-2004 had no apparent effect on gun murders. Biden is wrong to expect anything but massive civil unrest and disobedience from an attempt to actually take them from overwhelmingly innocent American gun owners’ hands.
Biden also insisted he will “repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued”—a severe misstatement of the facts. The law he references, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, merely makes it more difficult to sue manufacturers for harms caused not by any actual error or negligence related to how they made or sold the gun, but by criminal acts of their customers. Not being able to hold people liable for things not their actual fault is a fine legal principle, and Biden’s call to end it is a backdoor call to harm the Second Amendment by driving legal manufacturers and sellers of weapons out of business.
That proposal is of a piece with all his SOTU gun rhetoric, pleasing to his constituents but based more in hostility to overwhelmingly innocent private gun sales and ownership than any effective public policy likely to curb those who use guns to kill.