Civil Liberties

Take a Grain of Salt With Those "Long" Connecticut Gun Registration Lines



Connecticut news outlets report long lines as the deadline looms for state residents to undergo the registration process that will magically render their firearms and standard-capacity magazines legal, in contrast to those evil, forbidden, yet identical, guns and mags that remain unregistered after the turn of the year. Thousands of registrations have been recorded, yet whether that counts as substantial compliance with the law depends on something that's unknowable: how many objects subject to the law are in the state. As I've written before, however, defiance of such laws is the historical norm.

According to NBC Connecticut:

Long lines extended again from Connecticut State Police headquarters in Middletown Tuesday morning as gun owners raced to comply with new gun laws that go into effect on Jan. 1.

New gun laws were enacted after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012 that took the lives of 20 first graders and six staff members. Tuesday is the year-end deadline for gun owners to register certain assault weapons as well as high-capacity magazines. …

As of Christmas, 25,000 people had registered assault weapons and 17,000 registered high-capacity magazines, Malloy said Monday. That number is sure to rise after hundreds of people waited in line on the final two days of 2013, rushing to meet the deadline.

25,000 registered "assault weapons" with hundreds more to go? But Governor Andrew Cuomo in (much larger) neighboring New York estimates the number of similar weapons in his state at one million, while a widely ignored 1991 ban in New Jersey on the arbitrarily defined category of weapons was estimated to apply to 100,000-300,000 such guns, before the politics-fueled buying frenzies of the last two decades.

I'm willing to bet that 25,000 registered assault weapons represents a minority of the firearms that are legally required to be registered under the law. Considering that the vast majority of "assault weapons" use magazines restricted under the new law, and that most people purchase multiple magazines for their rifles, 17,000 registrations in that category should be seen as wildly underwhelming.

That shouldn't be surprising at all, since defiance of registration laws, let alone confiscations, is the historical norm in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany … Politicians made that particular bed by being repeatedly untrustworthy, abusing registration records to seize recorded weapons, or otherwise letting even tolerable governments degenerate into the sort of regimes that make you wish you had a gun.

In a white paper on the results of gun control efforts around the world, Gun Control and the Reduction of the Number of Arms, Franz Csaszar, a professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, Austria, wrote, "non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event." He estimated that Germans registered 3.2 million of 17-20 million affected weapons when registration was implemented in that country in 1972. Austrians, he says, registered perhaps a quarter to a third of weapons subject to a similar law in 1996.

When California imposed "assault weapon" registration 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" at the time the grace period came to a close.

So take those "long lines" in Connecticut with a grain of salt. Government officials are capable of turning a dinner party into an extended, bureaucratic ordeal. But they can't make compliance with intrusive and repressive laws seem like a goood idea.