EDITORIAL: Why Author Paul Barrett’s Wrong About the NRA’s Slippery-Slope Argument (VIDEO)

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Paul Barrett, author of the New York Times bestseller “GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun“ (2012) and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek.  To further illustrate this point, you can check out my Guns.com interview with Barrett at SHOT Show 2013.

I often tell people, if you want sensible and unbiased analysis of the gun control debate, read Barrett’s work.  In my mind, he is the standard-bearer for objective gun journalism.  Now, that does not mean I agree with everything he writes or says.

In fact, I couldn’t disagree more with what he wrote in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, “A DOJ Memo Shows Why the NRA Wins on Gun Control,” in which he effectively downplayed the significance and impact of President Obama’s gun control agenda. When considering the NRA’s recent ad highlighting the limitations of a ban on ‘assault’ weapons and universal background checks by using snippets from a leaked Department of Justice memorandum, Barrett wrote:

 As the memo points out, the president’s agenda amounts to marginal rule-tinkering, which would do very little to affect violent crime rates. (As an aside: Those crime rates are declining for complicated, poorly understood reasons that have nothing to do with gun-control laws.) In a bizarre twist entirely typical of the radioactive gun debate, the NRA wants to block the administration’s relatively tame proposals based on the conspiratorial notion that they must be harbingers of vastly more draconian moves. That the White House says it would never dare to support registration or confiscation only confirms the conspiracy.

While it’s certainly true that none of what the President has pushed for would measurably reduce crime rates, I think most gun owners would balk at the idea that Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s 2013 Assault Weapons Ban – something the White House enthusiastically endorses and, I mean, how many times have we heard “Weapons of war have no place on the street” in the past three months? – is a “tame” proposal that is tantamount to “marginal rule-tinkering.”

Feinstein’s AWB would significantly broaden the definition of what an ‘assault’ weapon is, moving the classification from two cosmetic features down to one.  It’s stated goal, as the California Senator said herself while unveiling the measure last month, is to “dry up the supply of these weapons over time.”

Sure, it’s not overt confiscation or registration, but it is an attempt at putting the modern-sporting rifle industry out of business, which I would argue is just as pernicious as confiscation or registration to the average gun enthusiast.

On a quick side note, the universal background check (UBC) bill that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is authoring along with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has yet to be finalized.  Why is it taking so long?

As POLITICO reported, “Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been negotiating on the background checks, but Coburn says they have failed to reach agreement on his top concern: that no permanent record keeping of gun purchases be made a result of background checks.”

It would appear that Democrats are still fighting for universal registration despite what the White House has promised.

The other objection I have is Barrett’s dismissal of the slippery-slope argument that the NRA makes in the ad (see video above).   Barrett wrote:

The NRA specializes in the slippery-slope argument: resist all gun control on the theory that the liberals’ real goal is to take away your firearms. This reasoning has no basis in fact, yet it gains power from the very modesty of the proposals Obama has pushed.

To this I say gun control legislation is not created in a vacuum.  What’s discussed on the federal level certainly bleeds down to the state level.  While it may be too late for the Obama administration or Congress to heed the advice of the DOJ memo (which essentially argued that if universal background checks have any chance at being effective, there has to be a registry and if an AWB has any chance at being effective, it has to include confiscation, though, even then it probably won’t be), it’s not too late for state lawmakers to craft and adopt legislation that reflects these core insights.

Along these lines gun owners have seen as many as five confiscatory gun control measures introduced in state Legislatures across the country in the past three weeks (California, Missouri, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, among others).  Some, like the one introduced in California, would permit state police to go door-to-door to round up ‘assault’ weapons.

On one hand, one could argue that most of these measures are mere political posturing by venal lawmakers trying to curry favor with gun control supporters and that in reality they have little chance of becoming law.

But, on the other, they are being drafted.  They are being introduced.  Consequently, they are real — and they are a threat to law-abiding gun owners.

Language from the Missouri/Minnesota Bill, law-abiding gun owners would be faced with the following options if the AWB were to pass:

(1) Remove the assault weapon or large capacity magazine from the state of Missouri;

(2) Render the assault weapon permanently inoperable; or

(3) Surrender the assault weapon or large capacity magazine to the appropriate law enforcement agency for destruction, subject to specific agency regulations.


5. Unlawful manufacture, import, possession, purchase, sale, or transfer of an assault weapon or a large capacity magazine is a class C felony.

Will Missouri or Minnesota pass confiscatory gun bills?  Probably not.  Will California or Illinois?  Maybe.

Look at what New York has done: mandatory registration of all assault weapons, a complete retroactive ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds (a New Yorker can still possess a 10 round magazine, but if he loads more than seven bullets into it, it’s a misdemeanor.  If he possesses a magazine over 10 rounds, it’s a felony).

From my vantage point, the federal proposals are just a starting point, a baseline, a primer for more aggressive laws to be enacted at the state level.  Consequently, I think the slippery-slope argument holds water because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it’s the federal government or if it’s one’s state government that chips away at his/her right to keep and bear arms, the result is the same.

If gun control advocates want to reach common ground, they have to stop trying to take a mile every time gun owners offer up an inch.  But I don’t think temperance is part of their nature.  Particularly because none of what they’re offering would have any real impact impact on crime, which is why they need to keep pushing for tougher and more restrictive gun laws.

So, I suppose, I would tell Mr. Barrett that the reason why the NRA ad resonates with so many gun owners is not because it’s an effective rhetorical ploy, but because there is a fair amount of truth to it.

UPDATE: Response from Paul Barrett

I appreciate this thoughtful criticism, not to mention the very kind introductory words about my work in general. We will agree to disagree and continue to discuss. One comment (below) makes a valid point, albeit one intended to attack me. I do believe in government or, more precisely, democracy. It’s a messy process designed to accommodate disagreement. The Republic would benefit if we debated guns (and lots of other controversial topics) with less rancor and personal invective. Have more faith in the other guy’s motives. He probably is not your enemy. Onward! – Paul Barrett, Author, GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun

Your thoughts?

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