In "Harassment by Law" (Viewpoint, Sunday, January 30, 2000) I
described problems Californians faced in attempting to comply with the state’s
new "assault weapon" registration law. AB-23 dictated registration on
or before December 31, 2000.
Now we learn that out of California’s population of 35 million people, only
27,000 "assault weapons" have been registered, even though it is
estimated that there are 500,000 to 1 million legally owned assault weapons in
California. What caused this massive amount of non-compliance?
On various firearms-related forums on the Internet I learned that many
Californians opted to legally ship their assault weapons out of state.
A number of others legally removed certain "offending parts" --
such as pistol grips and flash-hiders -- from their "assault weapons"
to reduce them to a state which doesn’t require them be registered. The fact
that these stripped firearms are still fully functional is proof positive that
in addition to being unclear, the assault weapon definitions contained in AB-23
are totally meaningless.
Many law-abiding Californians say they have not registered as an act of civil
disobedience -- perhaps the largest such act in U.S. history. They strongly
believe that firearms registration is a serious violation of their civil rights
and will eventually lead to them losing their firearms.
They point to histories of other locales including New York City, Australia,
England and pre-WW II Germany where innocent weapon registration eventually led
to wholesale or complete weapon confiscation.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
These people are not right-wing extremists, but, they strongly feel
California’s assault weapon registration crosses the line between maintaining
one’s individual God-given rights as dictated by the U.S. Constitution, and
giving them up.
They opine that government has no more of a right to dictate which arms they
can own for self-defense (or any other legal firearm activity) than it would in
selecting which churches they can attend, or which topics they can discuss when
writing a newspaper editorial.
And, they say that if you truly examine the facts, you will find that gun
control laws just don’t work to reduce crime or violence.
For example, if gun control did work, we would not have just seen a shooting
outside the White House. Washington DC has the strictest gun control laws in the
country. They constitute a total gun ban -- you can’t own or even possess any
firearm in Washington DC.
Despite that annoying little detail, an armed man did indeed just get
arrested outside the White House after allegedly shooting at it.
Every time there is a school
or workplace shooting someplace, we’re falsely told that more gun control laws
are needed. This in spite of the fact that California, with its very harsh gun
control laws, leads the nation in such events.
CNN and The Associated Press have stated that six of the last 27 school or
workplace shootings happened in California. By contrast, absolutely none have
occurred in 20 of the 32 states with "shall issue" carry concealed
weapon permits and no assault weapons laws.
California’s assault weapon law was passed as the result of a schoolyard
shooting in Stockton. Gun-owners felt it was nothing more than a feel-good,
knee-jerk reaction, and the CNN/AP numbers have proved them correct.
No fewer than 10 of those 27 school and workplace shootings ended with the
suicide death of the shooter. Two more ended with suicide-by-cop. Can sanity be
legislated? No, it cannot!
Our legislators seem to have forgotten that each and every thing a criminal
can do with a firearm (such as merely possessing it, or committing homicide,
assault, robbery or kidnapping, etc.), is already as illegal as these crimes can
be, without benefit of any of the nation’s 30,000 gun-control laws. What we
really need instead is criminal control.
Lastly, others complain they couldn’t or didn’t register because the law
is unclear or the registration procedure was impossible to follow.
When the AB-23 assault-weapon registration went into effect, practically no
information was available regarding how to comply with it by December 31, 2000. Public
hearings were held. The Department of Justice "clarified" the
compliance rules, over and over again.
But, many questions still remained unanswered, including which firearms
needed to be registered. As late as October, the DOJ released a document on the
Internet which added new ones to the list.
Due to the constant changes, my wife and I delayed sending in our own
registrations until December.
We needed two forms but only had one at the time. We went to place after
place, but other than "...the very last (form) we have..." from LAPD
in the West Valley, all through December, no registration forms were available
anywhere in the San Fernando Valley. Absolutely none.
Finally, on December 28, three short days before the deadline, DOJ posted (on
the Internet) a version of the otherwise unobtainable form.
You could fill it in and send it to DOJ, but you still had to somehow obtain
and submit a "real" form within 14 calendar days.
If you were lucky enough to find a form, you faced the next hurdle --
fingerprinting. LAPD doesn’t do it anymore. We eventually found someone with a
The year and a half of change, uncertainty, missing information and
unobtainable forms are, in part, why so few law-abiding Californians succeeded
in running the DOJ assault-weapon registration gauntlet. To many, it was
impossible to comply.
To outside observers, the California assault weapons registration system has
been funnier than a Mel Brooks movie. I don’t think the unnecessary creation
of upwards of a million new criminals (because of nonregistration of weapons) is
at all humorous -- it’s sad, tragic and disgraceful.
My wife and I complied. But, after waiting for two months, we still haven’t
received any proof of registration. We still can’t use our
"registered" firearm without fear of arrest and confiscation. If this
isn’t harassment by law, what is it?