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Laws Based on Misdiagnosed Issues Don't Solve the Problem - and Create New Ones

October 17, 2019

by: Frank Tait

The apocryphal quote of Albert Einstein is that “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining it, and 5 minutes solving it.  35+ years experience in the software industry drove home that point.


The legislative process, particularly as it relates to firearms law, seems to have things backwards. In a rush to “do something”, legislation is quickly drafted without understanding the root causes or a clear definition of the situation, and without any apparent analysis of potential unintended or downstream consequences.  Then the laws are amended and extended to try to address some of the issues that invariably arise from the disconnect between the intent of the law and the reality of the underlying problem, and that were easily foreseeable if relevant groups would have been consulted and their feedback incorporated in the legislation, or even if the legislation is needed in the first place.  


Today there are over 22,000 distinct firearms laws in effect in the US, overlapping, confusing to those trying to comply with the laws as well as to law enforcement and the Judiciary trying to enforce and interpret the laws that don’t solve the problem they are intended to solve.


As Paul Sloane writes in his article on Innovation Excellence, The Wrong Diagnosis means the Wrong RemedyLegislative staffers and lobbyists come to the table with a preconceived notion of what they want. The media is complicit in perpetuating the misconception that the firearms are the problem (see figure to left). They do not take any time to consult with experts in the field that may disagree with preconceived positions, understand the root causes of the issue, nor do they think through the implications of the laws they are proposing.   Anti-gun people have a bias that the firearm is at the root of all “gun violence” and actively work to ignore and silence those that have relevant, but differing perspectives. 


As a case in point, last week a group of pro-second amendment folks and NRA certified instructors met with State Senator Tom Killion (PA-9).  We discussed the  universal background check bill he is supporting. He wants to extend PA’s laws to have mandatory background checks on all long guns (today only a background check is required fora long gun if a FFL is part of the transaction, all handgun transactions require a background check).  


We asked the Senator if he understood the implications of the law to firearms marksmanship and safety instructors.  While claiming to be a firearm owner, he had no inclination that instructors regularly loan firearms to students for the purpose of instruction.  We help many people interested in purchasing a firearm try several of ours before making a purchase.  One example we shared from a recent one day rifle class for 18 students (12 youth and 6 of their parents) - none of the students in the class owned a rifle.  Instructors for the class and members of the host range willingly lent their firearms to the students to participate in the class.  When the extractor of one rifle (mine) broke, we brought out yet another loaner from an instructor and that youth was able to continue in the class without missing a beat.  Under his proposed law the 48 separate firearm loan events that happened in just that one class would all have required a background check even though at the end of the day, all firearms went back to their original owner.


We opened his eyes a little bit - He stated that no-one had ever explained routine scenarios like this to him before.  We then asked the Senator about the effectiveness of the current background check law. Using data from Representative Dean (PA4) in her recent townhall meeting, in the past year, there were 12,000 firearm purchase denials from the background checks (out of over 757,000 purchases / transfers). Of those 12,000 denials, there were only 12 prosecutions and 3 convictions. We asked what benefit the addition of long guns to mandatory background checks was going to do given the dismal state of prosecutions for the existing law.  The Senator and his chief of staff had no answer. 


We offered to help the Senator and his staff on firearm issues to make sure that they were thinking about the realities of what they are proposing.  Hopefully he and his staff will take us up on our offer to help by providing context of how law abiding people safely own and use firearms for any of the legislation they are considering, or if the legislation is even needed in the first place. We were adamant that the current background check law is adequate, if it would be enforced. 


The only way we make progress here is to continue to force the issue by holding in person meetings with the legislators and their staff and bringing real world data and examples to protect our rights.