Civil Liberties

Sandy Hook Report Demands 'Gun Restraining Orders'? But What About Pointed Sticks?

Threats of violence are already illegal, so shouldn't you focus on the people issuing them?


Monty Python

There's a lot to mock in the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission draft report (PDF), up for final changes today. Overall, the document serves as the unintentional basis for a medicalized remake of the movie Brazil, with its control-freakery, including fortified public schools, unenforceable gun bans, and scrutinized home-educators, justified under the umbrella of a mental health security state. If a new government agency is entrusted with the implementation of the report's recommendations, its logo should certainly feature an image of riot cops in hospital scrub-based uniforms strapping some unfortunate to a gurney surrounded by the motto, "It's For the Good of the Community."

Which brings us to the proposal, borrowed from the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, for gun restraining orders. As per the report:

a system should be devised to allow family members to obtain a "Gun Restraining Order." This would allow those closest to an individual to ask the court, based on their testimony as to a threat of violence, to issue a court order authorizing the police to seize any firearms owned or possessed by such individual.

"Testimony as to a threat of violence"? Isn't that the problem, rather than one sort of tool with which the violence might be carried out? This brings to mind the Monty Python skit in which a self-defense instructor insists on teaching his students endless means of fending off assailants armed with fresh fruit, until one finally asks what he should do if attacked with a pointed stick.

As it turns out, "a threat of violence" is already a crime in Connecticut, punishable by jail time and fines. But why not focus on the tools instead, subject allegedly dangerous individuals to "Gun Restraining Orders," and leave them to carry out their threats with some other implement of destruction? The Bureau of Justice Statistics points out that weapons are used in 19.5 percent of domestic violence situations, and "a weapon could be a gun, a knife, some other sharp object (such as scissors or an ice pick), or a blunt object (such as a rock or a baseball bat)."

Which is to say the person issuing the threat is the danger, and is likely to choose weapons at hand, or just fists and feet, to commit mayhem.

The Sandy Hook report comes in the wake of a mass killing at a school, and so is more focused on threats to the public than on domestic violence, but that's still covered under laws already criminalizing "a threat of violence." In fact, such "terroristic threats" are penalized at a higher level than those against individuals. If you have evidence (rather than allegations) of such a credible and actionable threat, the danger lies in the person, not in one class of weapons.