Civil Liberties

Connecticut Shouldn't Be Surprised That "Fewer People Than Expected Have Registered Weapons"



Earlier this year, Connecticut politicians took advantage of the horrific Newtown shootings to dust off a wish list of draconian firearms restrictions and race them through the legislative process into law. The restrictions wouldn't have prevented the mass murder—they would have been completely irrelevant to the crime, in fact—which may be why they were rammed through under "emergency certification" with no referrals to committees or public hearings. Among other things, the new law requires registration of "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines by January 1, 2014. Any student of history could have predicted officials' current concerns now that relatively few residents are complying with the law and telling the state what they own as the deadline fast approaches.

According to Hugh McQuaid at CT News Junkie:

As of mid-November, the state had received about 4,100 applications for assault weapon certificates and about 2,900 declarations of large-capacity magazines.

Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's criminal justice advisor, said that so far fewer people than expected have registered weapons under the new law. However, he said gun owners should take seriously the consequences of ignoring the law. Disregarding the registration requirements can carry felony charges in some cases, which can make Connecticut residents ineligible to own guns.

First-time offenders who can prove they owned the weapon before the law passed, and have otherwise followed the law, may be charged with a class A misdemeanor. In other cases, possessing one of the newly-banned guns will be considered a felony that carries with it a sentence of at least a year in prison.

"If you haven't declared it or registered it and you get caught . . . you'll be a felon. People who disregard the law are, among other things, jeopardizing their right to own firearms. If you're not a law-abiding citizen, you're not a law-abiding citizen," Lawlor said.

Mike Lawlor
State of Connecticut

Mr. Lawlor (pictured at right), like most government officials, seems to think he and his buddies have invented policy out of whole cloth, and that the population has no choice but to shuffle along and obey. But weapons registration laws have a history—a consistent history, as I've written, of noncompliance and defiance.

State officials could have taken a moment to glance across the state line to New York City, where a few tens of thousands of firearms are owned legally, and an estimated two million are held illegally, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That is not uncommon. In my piece on the history of gun control's failure, I wrote:

The high water mark of American compliance with gun control laws may have come with Illinois's handgun registration law in the 1970s. About 25 percent of handgun owners actually complied, according to Don B. Kates, a criminologist and civil liberties attorney, writing in the December 1977 issue of Inquiry. After that, about 10 percent of "assault weapon" owners obeyed California's registration law, says David B. Kopel, research director for Colorado's Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank, and author of The Samurai, The Mountie, and The Cowboy, a book-length comparison of international firearms policies.

That one-in-10 estimate may have been generous. As the registration period came to a close in 1990, The New York Times reported "only about 7,000 weapons of an estimated 300,000 in private hands in the state have been registered."

Connecticut may want to look close to home for even lower compliance figures. In New Jersey, reported The New York Times in 1991, after the legislature passed a law banning "assault weapons," 947 people registered their rifles as sporting guns for target shooting, 888 rendered them inoperable, and four surrendered them to the police. That's out of an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 firearms affected by the law.

Over the years, officials in New York City and California used registration records to confiscate guns, in violation of their own promises. That's a lesson that firearms owners have taken to heart in this country (and elsewhere), probably permanently dooming the enforceability of such laws.

The end result of pushing through gun laws that people won't obey is very predictable. You end up with a society in which people continue to own vast numbers of weapons regardless of the law. Connecticut may be on the way, sometime after the new year's registration deadline, to turning itself into a replica of Germany, where up to 20 million unregistered firearms are held in addition to 7.2 million legal ones, or France, where as many as 17 million illegal guns overshadow 2.8 million legal ones.

If you bother to learn from history, it shouldn't be a surprise that people stop caring whether they're "not a law-abiding citizen" when they lose respect for the law and the people who inflict it on them.