Gun Control

An Ideological Test for Gun Ownership

The next step in the effort to keep dangerous people from buying firearms


According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the deadly August 5 attack on a Sikh temple near Milwaukee showed "our elected officials" need to "do something." Slightly more specifically, it said we should "Demand Congress Stop Arming Dangerous People."

I did not realize there was a federal program that supplies mass murderers with weapons. Obviously this is a poor use of our tax dollars. Congress should not only eliminate this program; it should prevent dangerous people from buying guns on their own.

But how do we know who is dangerous? The Brady Campaign mentioned "convicted felons," "convicted domestic abusers," "terrorists," and "people found to be dangerously mentally ill." But it overlooked a crucial category: people with dangerous ideas.

Wade M. Page, the Army veteran who was shot to death by police after killing six people and injuring three at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, had documented ties to white supremacist groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), he was "a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band" called End Apathy. "The music that comes from these bands is incredibly violent," Mark Potok, an SPLC senior fellow, told The New York Times. "It talks about murdering Jews, black people, gay people and a whole host of other enemies."

According to the SITE Monitoring Service, Page was a familiar presence on websites run by Stormfront, Hammerskin Nation, and other white supremacist groups. In a 2010 interview with End Apathy's record company, Page said he aimed to cure "a sick society" and bemoaned "how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy."

In other words, Page's scary views were well-known long before he bought the 9mm handgun he used in the temple attack. Yet he was still able to pass a federal background check.

Federal law currently bans gun ownership by felons, illegal drug users, people convicted of misdemeanors involving domestic violence, and anyone "committed to a mental institution" or "adjudicated as a mental defective." Amazingly, there is no ideological test for gun ownership, even though someone like Page, "who fed and was fueled by hate" (as the Times put it), is far more dangerous than the average pot smoker or mental patient.

Private organizations such as the SPLC and government agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security already monitor the online activities of violent extremists. How hard would it be to collect that information in a database that could be used to check whether a would-be gun buyer harbors views that make him prone to murder?

Once the database is created, it can be regularly updated with the names of people who express views like Page's—who talk about tyranny, hypocrisy, or a "sick society," for instance, or who quote inflammatory proclamations like this one, frequently seen on the T-shirts of right-wing lunatics: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants." Membership in a white-power band (or, really, any band at all) is another obvious red flag.

I don't mean to imply that violent extremism is limited to the right. When you consider the ideas expressed by Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, it is clear that left-wing critiques of capitalism also lead to murderous violence.

I am not saying people do not have a right to express these alarming views—just that if they do, they should not be surprised if they are turned away when they try to buy a gun. The Brady Campaign correctly says "it is time we acknowledged" that the Second Amendment "guarantees the right to keep and bear arms." But the Supreme Court has said that right is subject to reasonable regulations aimed at protecting public safety. What could be more reasonable than stopping dangerous people from buying dangerous weapons?  

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  1. That makes a lot of sense dude. Wow.

  2. I’m seriously hoping you’ being facetious, Sullum. Like, really seriously.

    1. This is the second time he’s run this article. The third time, if you count the posting. I’d have thought everyone here would now about the article by now.

    2. Don’t worry though, you aren’t the only one to be confused by it.

    3. I’m 99.9999% certain he is. Although this could easily be published on Daily Kos and Democratic Underground as a “serious” editorial, and agreed with by the vast majority of those sites’ readers. Kind of makes me want to go out and buy a gun while it’s still legal for me to do so.

  3. What a wonderful idea. There’s NO WAY this could ever be abused.

  4. While we’re add it, let’s add people who like Con Air, Michael Bay movies, deep dish pizza, and Downton Abbey to the list. Who’s with me?!?

    1. It’s Downtown Abbey, you palestine.

      1. Allahu akbar!

        1. It’s a TRAP!

          1. +1 Damn near spit out my soup.

    2. Also, pro-choicer’s, Next Generation fans, circumcisors, and anyone who swills Bud, Miller Lite, Coors Light or other mass-produced dreck.

      1. NG was pinko bullshit, so no way would an Obama administration go with that.

      2. I just put you on the list. Along with Hugh.

      3. For a moment I read that as “mass-produced Shrek”. I thought my worst nightmare had come true.

      4. We can’t forgot those Ron Paul supporters. Even the DHS said they’re a bunch of nutjobs. /s off

    3. You can have my copy of Con Air when you pry it out of my cold, dead DVD player.

      1. If you’re going to like a Nick Cage movie, you could at least have the decency and taste to like Raising Arizona or Vampire’s Kiss. Even Valley Girl would be better.

        1. He just wanted to get home to give his little girl Casey a stuffed bunny for her birthday. That’s all he wanted.

          1. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP

        2. I’m kind of shocked Moonstruck doesn’t make your list.

    4. I actually thought of you this past Sat. evening, as I was sitting at BJs and enjoying a delicious deep-dish pizza.

      Though those fucking nazies won’t let you sub out toppings. You can take them away, but you have to pay to add anything different in their place. Fuck that.

      1. Fuck you, JJ, you deep dish eating scum. I was going to go here on Saturday but met some friends here instead.

        1. Linking to yelp reviews now. You always claimed living in Seattle was just a necessary evil, but you really are a foodie hipster, aren’t you?

          DEEP DISH FOREVER!!!

          1. (starts loading SKS while watching JJ through binoculars and muttering “Nick Cage” and “Jerry Bruckheimer” over and over)

            1. Your emaciated frame, weak from a limp, thing, insubstantial crust, can’t possibly handle the recoil of any modern firearm enough to be a threat.

              Only those who partake of thick, hearty, fullsome and manly Deep Dish have the strength to manifest our will upon the world.

              1. thing = thin

                1. Limp?!?

                  1. Ok, if not limp, then wafter-brittle, which is just as bad.

                    Little Brittle.

                  2. Limp Thing, specifically.

              2. Deep Dish PIzza… isn’t pizza. It’s just a pile of stuff cooked in a cake pan. Tasty, sure ? but it sure as hell isn’t pizza.

                Pizza is… well, when you fold a slice, the grease drips down the fold. The crust has been tossed. If you want to find out what pizza is, you’ll need to go to New York, or find a NYC expatriate pizza-slinger.

                Chicago “pizza”… ugh.

            2. I read this and the first thing that I thought of was the gas station/sniper scene in “The Jerk”.

    5. I got to thinking about that whole deep-dish / thin-crust thing. Here is what I want to know: Do they make deep-dish pizza in Italy?

      1. Of course not. Italy could never do something that awesome. Remember, we don’t judge ourselves by the conduct of our enemies.

        1. Well that settles it for me. Deep-dish IS NOT PIZZA.

          1. Not even vaguely pizza. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed dinners at Lou Malnati’s, Uno, and Giordano’s. It may be tasty (to some), but it’s not pizza.

            And the bar-style “pizza” in Chicago is even worse- cut into squares???

            Now. Spacca Napoli may be in Chicago, but it’s the Real Deal.

    6. Michael Bay should direct a Con Air remake with the cast from Downton Abbey, with deep dish pizza as a major plot device.

    7. WTF is wrong with Downton Abbey?

  5. … someone like Page, “who fed and was fueled by hate”

    A perpetual motion machine? At last!

    1. See also: Warty

  6. When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    Dangerous ideas indeed.

  7. Thoughtcrime! Woo hoo!

  8. Is this a serious argument? People whose ideas some gubmint commissar disagrees with should be barred from owning firearms. Is that really your argument? I wonder how those regulators would feel about libertarians since Ron Paul is typically known as a neo-nazi fiend in those circles.

    1. You really need to get your sarcasm detector serviced. I suggest doing it immediately.

    2. Check your sarcasmometer. The batteries may have died.

      1. Check your one liner generator, I think it’s stealing lines from other posters.
        I see a scant amount of textually sarcastic commentary. The rest seems like an appeal to the reader’s inner bureaucrat.

        1. You must be a lot fun at parties.

        2. You must be a lot fun at parties.

          1. Orgies mostly.

            1. High five! 😛

  9. He is being facetious? Right, guys?

    1. I think that was adequately established last month when they first posted this.

      1. Missed it. Sorry.

    2. Yes, he’s being facetious, but the sad part is that 99 percent of this editorial could have run in the New York Times, from someone who wasn’t being facetious.

      1. That’s why it works. If you go to far over-the-top it becomes to obvious.

        1. “Membership in a white-power band (or, really, any band at all) is another obvious red flag.”

          That was the best – all I could see was sad, frowning, jailed Juggalos.

          1. They could repaint their faces to be a sad clown.

        2. Believe it or not, I really do know the difference between “to” and “too” in spite of the typos above. I just don’t know how to type.

  10. Maybe Jacob Sullum has spent too much time working with Steve Chapman, aka Reason’s most backasswards psuedo-libertarian.

    1. Maybe someone else needs to review his reading comprehesion skils or just send out a search party for his sense of humor.

      1. You were hung up between the “search party” line or the “reading comprehension” quip, weren’t you? One or the other would have done better, doing both evades the soul of wit. Better luck next time.

        1. So a search party it is.

          1. A search party full of incredibly tiresome dickheads, right?

            1. “I have an advanced degree in dick-nology!”

              1. “The word is pedantry.”

  11. Trolling for the humor-impaired is like fishing with dynamite.

    1. Great fun and hugely successful?

      1. Also guaranteed to get you murder-droned by the EPA.

      2. Lazy and covered in a coating of pulverized fish.

  12. Too subtle on the sarcasm.

    More cowbell.

  13. I just realized that libertarians want every one of the normal people to kill each other so that they can have all of the stuff for themselves. That’s what all this is about. That’s why everything should be left risky by the government. It’s like Die Hard. It’s not about ideology; it’s about the money!

  14. I can personally attest to the need for this. We don’t have such tests in Dallas, and it’s a fucking bloodbath. I can’t go to work without killing at least three people every morning.

    Contrast that with say, DC or Chicago, where they have sensible gun restrictions, and thus, much, MUCH lower murder and crime rates than anywhere else in the nation.

    1. I know. It’s like that in rural Indiana too. We can barely take a step outside because of all the bullets whizzing by.

    2. Gojira wins the thread

      1. Heh, yep, hands down.

  15. But the Supreme Court has said that right is subject to reasonable regulations aimed at protecting public safety.

    Over time, the Supreme Court has said that – where the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law…” – the Constitution really means “Congress shall make no law unless they have a good reason to do so, or a reason to do so, or say they have a reason to do so, or might have a reason to do so, or want to do so.” This is how we wound up with the President saying he has the secret authority to keep a secret list of People Who Really Need Killing and the Courts agreeing that, if he says he has such a secret authority, it’s not their place to question that.

    1. If I yell “penis!” in a crowded theater and everybody stampedes, that’s their fault for being dumbasses.

      1. What if you yell “DOODY!” in a crowded pool?

    2. So you think death threats and perjury should be legal? Laws against either are restrictions on speech.

      1. but death threats and perjury ARE legal if you’re a government official

  16. And BTW: Given the fact that the NYT regularly and predictably publishes editorials designed to stir up the urge to punch idiots in the face, shouldn’t Mo Dees add them to his list of hate groups?

  17. What could be more reasonable than stopping dangerous people from buying dangerous weapons?

    Obviously, letting dangerous people buy dangerous weapons, then *blowing them away*!


  18. I think it has already been suggested, but we could incorporate the “No Fly” list, because everybody knows how accurate and immune to abuse it is.

  19. the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence… said we should “Demand Congress Stop Arming Dangerous People.”

    I support taking dangerous weapons away from the police.

    1. I thought guns didn’t kill people, people do.

      1. We’ll just have to get rid of the people, then.

        1. Take the dangerous people away from the guns?

  20. i missed the column the first time. I would say that if you find yourself first checking the URL to make sure it’s Reason, then checking the author to make sure it isn’t Steve Chapman, then checking for quotation marks to make sure the piece isn’t lifted from some other website….

    perhaps the snark is a little too subtle

  21. Boy howdy! I don’t trust AG’s like Eric Holder, John Ashcroft, or Janet Reno to define who gets to buy a gun or not. I am amazed Sullum does.

    1. If you think Jacob Sullum meant for this article to be taken seriously, you must be very new to Reason.

    2. You might also think about reading all the comments (eg, the ones above that established that this is satire) before you post.

  22. every day is potentially april 1 on

  23. Totally agree with this article. We needs to keep guns out of the hands of those crazy libertarian people, with their radical ideas of limited government, free markets, and individual freedom.

    I for one believe whole heatedly that those psychopaths should be thrown in Guantanamo.

  24. I believe anyone who listens to Jon Mayher is inherently dangerous and absolutely should be disarmed immediately….and banned from using iTunes.

  25. According to the SITE Monitoring Service, Page was a familiar presence on websites run by Stormfront, Hammerskin Nation, and other white supremacist groups.

    “Hammerskin Nation” sounds like a gay night club with a neo-Nazi leatherboy scene.

  26. The Brady Campaign mentioned “convicted felons,” “convicted domestic abusers,” “terrorists,” and “people found to be dangerously mentally ill.”

    Has someone bothered to tell them that all of those people already can’t buy a gun from a dealer or anyone who has to (because of State law) use NICS to check the sale?

    I’d have hoped that the Brady Campaign would have at least glanced at a Form 4473 at some point…

    (If, that is, we assume “terrorist” means “someone convicted of a terrorist crime”, and that such crimes are, as they should be, felonies.

    I mean, it’d be nice if people could mind-read and know who actual terrorists [and for that matter, mere criminals] were before conviction, but since they can’t…)

    1. Here’s an idea! Let’s pass a law banning gun ownership for any member of the Brady Campaign or any employee of same.

      They can’t possibly object, can they?

  27. I look forward to the dumbasses at the Brady Center taking this column seriously and seeking permission to reprint it.

  28. The French have the right idea. You know they’ve proposed a new law to send a guvmint agent out to your house to do a survey of your life style. Those with sufficiently “green” habits will receive a lower rate on their energy bill. Those who’ve done nothing to conserve and who’s big screen TVs use too much power, will be billed at a higher rate.

    I’m disappointed that Sullum doesn’t recommend a methodology for what he proposes. We need annual interviews of all gun owners and applicants, to determine their suitability to continue the exercise of their Second Amendment “privileges.” These interviewers can be appointed by an independent, unbiased group: The Brady Campaign.

  29. “I did not realize there was a federal program that supplies mass murderers with weapons.”
    Forgetting about Fast and Furious, are we?

  30. I am all for reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.

    And since I have owned firearms for all of my adult life without causing any harm to anybody with them it certainly seems reasonable that there be no restrictions on the firearms I own nor on how I carry them. Doesn’t that make sense?

    So for me and anybody like me who has not willfully broken any laws with firearms I would say it is reasonable that the NFA, the GCA, the import ban of 1989, and all laws and regulations restricting concealed carry should no longer apply.

    I’m glad to know that the brady bunch would support me on this.


  32. Hey guys, just joined.

    Anyway, I’m based in Canada, so I don’t know any other libertarians. Looking forward to conversing with you.

    about me

    Economics: Austrian
    Politics: Classical Liberal/Libertarian-flirt with ancap when paying taxes
    Vices: Smoking, drinking and those sweet sweet transfats (Fuck cali and bloomberg)

    gun control: bullshit
    Hate speech: tyranny

    So needless to say I don’t vote

  33. Considering that politicians with “dangerous ideas” have committed more mass murder than the electorate let’s have ideological test for them

  34. Yes lets ban people with “dangerous ideas” from owning guns.
    Lets start with all liberals and all neo-cons. Then lets put all those people who want to use coal for a fuel and all the people who want to destroy all the jobs in the coal industry by making it too expensive to use.
    Get the picture?
    One man’s dangerous radical is another man’s rational advocate.
    I’ve got an alternative idea. Mandatory firearms qualification in our schools.
    That way if the time ever comes that you need to unload a firearm you will know how to do it without shooting yourself or the person in the next room. Also, you will be in a position to make a rational decision on firearms ~~ownership~~ without all of the hysteria and hand-wringing that is the hallmark of the majority of those who want to restrict ~~my~~ rights just because they feel threatened by a piece of precision machinery that they know very little about.

  35. …Did I just take a wrong turn into a article?

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  41. Not even vaguely pizza. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed dinners at Lou Malnati’s, Uno, and Giordano’s. It may be tasty (to some), but it’s not pizza.
    ???? ????? ???
    ???? ????? ???????
    And the bar-style “pizza” in Chicago is even worse- cut into squares???

    Now. Spacca Napoli may be in Chicago, but it’s the Real Deal.

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