Crushed by tyranny.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

The NRA's Slippery Slope Ends in Paradise

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Speaking in 2013, a few weeks after children were slaughtered in their classrooms in Newtown, Connecticut, and just after President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre laid out the frightening challenge that Obama’s presidency posed to gun owners.

“He wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry,” LaPierre said. “There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners -- to tax them or take them.”

Just seven months away from the end of his second term, Obama still has not proposed, much less implemented, a federal gun registry. But LaPierre is in the gun business, not the honesty business. The diabolical “slippery slope” that begins with criminal background checks and snowballs from there into gun registration, confiscation and, finally, totalitarian tyranny is one of LaPierre’s favorite tropes. And in honor of the election calendar, the dangerous peaks of Mount Obama are rapidly transforming into the slippery slopes of Mount Hillary.

LaPierre shares space on his chosen declivity with others, such as Jesse Benton, a former campaign manager for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. In 2013, Benton lamented Obama’s “thinly veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of ‘background checks’ to ensure federal government minders gain every bureaucratic tool they need for full-scale confiscation.”

Keep in mind that there are about 125 million households in the U.S. and perhaps almost three times as many guns. Now imagine, or try to, the futile mechanics and implausible politics of mass confiscation.

LaPierre relies on his formidable imagination to summon pictures of a gun-registration dystopia. Yet he needn’t. A real-world example exists -- in a remote, godforsaken Pacific atoll where every glint of human spirit is crushed. The natives call it “Hawaii.”

Basically every functioning, non-antique firearm in Hawaii is required to be registered with local police. The registration requires the names of the manufacturer and importer, model, type of action, caliber or gauge, serial number and the source from which the firearm was obtained, including the name and address of the prior owner.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

All registration data that would identify the individual registering the firearm by name or address are confidential and shall not be disclosed to anyone, except if required by a law enforcement agency for the lawful performance of its duties or as may be required by order of a court.

In other words, the information is confidential until, maybe, it’s not.

Awaiting Hawaii Governor David Ige’s signature are two bills passed by the Legislature that would further strengthen the state’s gun laws. One adds “harassment by stalking and sexual assault” to the list of offenses that disqualify one from gun possession, based on research linking domestic violence and gun violence.

The other “authorizes county police departments to enroll firearms applicants and individuals who are registering their firearms into a criminal record monitoring service used to alert police when an owner of a firearm is arrested for a criminal offense anywhere in the country.”

Presuming the second bill becomes law (Ige has a few weeks yet to act), Hawaii gun owners will have their names added to a federal data base in addition to their state data base.

Here’s a bold prediction: If the bill is signed, life in Hawaii will go on pretty much as it has. Indeed, life will go on in a slightly safer, healthier fashion than it does elsewhere in the U.S. In 2015 Hawaii had the fewest gun deaths per capita of the 50 states.

Is gun registration the cause of Hawaii’s safer society? Gun violence is too complex to depend on a single factor. But there is an encouraging correlation between stronger gun laws and lower rates of gun death. And unlike other states with relatively strong laws, such as California and New York, Hawaii is far removed from neighbors with slipshod laws written by NRA lobbyists. It’s easy to run guns from Arizona to California, or from Florida to New York. It’s a lot less easy to send them to Hawaii (although similarly remote Alaska, with weak laws, turns out to be a surprisingly robust source of guns used in crimes in other states).

As the Orlando shootings inspire a renewed, and painfully familiar, debate over gun laws, Americans will no doubt be treated to much rhetoric about the slippery slope that sends rudimentary regulation skidding perilously down into totalitarianism. Unless Hawaii is your idea of hell on earth, you can very safely ignore the hysteria. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net