This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of America's 1st Freedom
Did you know the Winchester 1903, a .22-caliber rifle that has a 10-round tube magazine, is a “semi-automatic assault rifle”? In fact, every semi-automatic rifle is a “semi-automatic assault rifle.” So says Michael Bloomberg, and he is poised to turn his definition into law.
The gun-banner epithet “assault weapon” has always been a deceit. Unlike other firearm terms—such as “handgun” or “bolt action”—the phrase “assault weapon” has never had a fixed meaning. Instead, the phrase is a euphemism for “as many firearms as we can restrict, based on current political conditions.” Back in 1989, then-Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., introduced an “assault weapons” bill to ban only nine specific models of firearms. But that was what the prohibitionists call “a good first step.” Now, Bloomberg and his allies are pushing an “assault rifle” ballot initiative in Washington state that would apply to every semi-automatic rifle in existence.
Bloomberg and his spokespeople claim to support the Second Amendment, saying they simply oppose “assault weapons.” But then they try to classify any semi-automatic rifle as an “assault weapon,” regardless of caliber, magazine capacity or anything else.
Gun-banners in nations such as Australia and Great Britain have already succeeded in outlawing all semi-automatic long guns. In the United States, a big step in that direction is this year’s Washington state ballot measure 1639.
Bloomberg and his spokespeople claim to support the Second Amendment, saying they simply oppose “assault weapons.” But then they try to classify any semi-automatic rifle as an “assault weapon,” regardless of caliber, magazine capacity or anything else. Under Bloomberg’s proposed Washington law, semi-automatic rifles or handguns of any type would be subjected to onerous new restrictions and taxes, thus discouraging their possession and lawful use.
One objective of the Bloomberg strategy is stigmatization of gun owners. Maybe you just bought a Benelli R1, or your father gave you his Ruger 10/22, or you cherish your great-grandfather’s Remington 8. You, like all owners of semi-automatic rifles, are being stigmatized as an “assault rifle” owner—the kind of person who owns “weapons of war” that have no place in civil society.
This spring, Bloomberg organized rallies all over the country to denounce people who own such “assault rifles.” The hatred was palpable. Most of the people at those rallies knew almost nothing about firearms, and Bloomberg’s employees worked hard to make them loathe you because you own a “semi-automatic assault rifle.”
The Washington state scheme provides context to Bloomberg’s propaganda campaign, which employs boycotts, threats, libel and mob hysteria against anyone having anything to do with what they consider “assault rifles.”
Perhaps you thought that the hate groups were only talking about AR-15s, Mini-14s or other firearms invented in the past six decades. To the contrary—every semi-automatic rifle ever made, going all the way back to the first Winchester in 1903, is an “assault rifle,” according to Bloomberg. The kind of people who hunt with them, collect them, sell them or make them are evil people who worship guns and don’t care about children’s lives. So say the mobs chanting the Bloomberg slogans. If the Washington proposal passes in November, individuals who wish to acquire a semi-automatic rifle will also have to waive the confidentiality of their medical records.
The act of applying to purchase “shall constitute a waiver of confidentiality and written request that the health care authority, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release, to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency, information relevant to the applicant’s eligibility to purchase.”
The Bloomberg groups pushing the defamatory initiative call themselves “Safe Schools Safe Communities” and the “Alliance for Gun Responsibility.” That’s like a group that wants to restrict access to books calling itself the “Alliance for Literacy.” The groups are funded by not only Bloomberg, but also by his billionaire allies, including former Microsoft Corp. executive Paul Allen.
Under the Bloomberg proposal, nobody, of any age, could ever acquire a “semi-automatic assault rifle” (that is, any semi-automatic rifle) without first passing a gun safety course, the content of which would be controlled by the government. So if, for example, you have been a certified hunter-safety instructor for the last 25 years, that still isn’t good enough. You can’t even borrow a semi-automatic rifle without first enrolling in and passing the government-controlled class at least every five years.
Further, no semi-automatic rifle sales or loans will be allowed without prior permission from the local police chief or sheriff. In Washington, such permission has historically been required for handguns, but not for long guns. If background check records are incomplete, local officials can place a 30-day hold on the sale, and that hold can be renewed indefinitely by a court. There is no specific requirement that the person subject to the hold be notified or have an opportunity to present his or her side of the case to the judge.
Under current law, those visiting Washington can purchase long guns. But the Bloomberg initiative would forbid them from purchasing semi-automatic rifles.
Also under the Bloomberg initiative, law enforcement would be required to keep detailed registration records, including the serial number, make and model of every semi-automatic rifle that is sold or lent with their authorization, as well as information about the buyer.
As experience demonstrates, registration records collected in one year can then be used for confiscation in future years. That’s precisely what occurred in Australia, whose gun control scheme is often touted by gun prohibition lobbies as the model we should be following. The national gun confiscation law in Australia was introduced shortly after the Australian anti-gun lobbies had succeeded in imposing gun registration in all Australian states.
Think it can’t happen in the United States? The same already has occurred in New York City. Long-gun registration there was enacted in 1967. Later, starting with Mayor David Dinkins and continuing ever since, the city’s gun registration lists have been employed for gun confiscation. When Bloomberg was mayor, he oversaw the confiscation of all long guns that held more than five rounds—a list which included semi-automatics, as well as those with pump actions and other actions.
If the Washington proposal passes in November, individuals who wish to acquire a semi-automatic rifle will also have to waive the confidentiality of their medical records. The act of applying to purchase “shall constitute a waiver of confidentiality and written request that the health care authority, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release, to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency, information relevant to the applicant’s eligibility to purchase.”
Handgun and semi-automatic rifle owners would be subject to continuing reverification of their eligibility to possess firearms. According to the initiative, the verification must take place “on an annual or more frequent basis.” So at least once a year—and possibly many more times, according to the language of the initiative—the government could harvest and store the medical records of owners of handguns and semi-automatic rifles.
To the contrary—every semi-automatic rifle ever made, going all the way back to the first Winchester in 1903, is an “assault rifle,” according to Bloomberg.
Suppose you promptly get permission from the local police or sheriff to purchase a handgun or semi-automatic rifle. You still can’t take the gun home: There will be a minimum waiting period of 10 business days (that is, at least two full weeks, depending on holidays) before you are allowed to take possession of your gun. It’s too bad if you’re a stalking victim in need of immediate protection, or if you’re a hunter who wants to replace a gun that broke in the middle of a hunting trip.
If you’re under 21, you might have to wait a lot longer, as Bloomberg is committed to eradicating the Second Amendment rights of young adults. His initiative would prohibit individuals 18 to 20 years of age from acquiring a semi-automatic rifle.
Bloomberg’s prohibitory rationale could also be applied to many other groups. For instance, males commit homicide at a much higher rate than do females, but that does not justify a gun ban for all males.
The preamble to the Bloomberg initiative says, “Research indicates that the brain does not fully mature until a later age.” The current scientific view is that full development of the prefrontal cortex is not completed until about the age of 25. So while Bloomberg currently aims to disarm 18- to 20-year-olds, his initiative actually sets the stage for limiting gun ownership to those over 25.
Under Bloomberg’s proposed plan, every semi-automatic rifle transfer would incur a $25 tax. This includes lending a semi-automatic to your brother-in-law for a weekend hunting trip. When your brother-in-law returns the rifle to you, there’s another $25 tax. Worse, this tax is indexed to inflation, meaning it would automatically increase as the inflation rate does.
The proceeds from this tax must then be used to administer the gun control program—for example, hiring employees to collect all new medical records about those who own handguns or semi-automatic rifles.
Of course, gun stores can’t provide services for free. When they conduct private transfers, as is now required in Washington state under a 2014 Bloomberg initiative, they charge fees for the time required to fill out all the paperwork. Consequently, the simple act of lending a firearm to a relative for the weekend and then having that firearm returned could easily cost $100 or more in taxes and fees.
Under ballot measure 1639, gun stores would also be ordered to disseminate false anti-gun propaganda to firearm buyers. The language on an application form to buy a handgun or a semi-automatic rifle would state: “Caution: The presence of a firearm in the home has been associated with an increased risk of death to self and others, including an increased risk of suicide, death during domestic violence incidents, and unintentional deaths to children and others.”
It is true that in the homes of law-abiding citizens, firearms do increase “the risk of death … to others.” Namely, it is the risk of death to home invaders, stalkers and other violent criminals.
Social science studies do show that when a violent domestic abuser has access to a gun, the abuser is more likely to kill someone. But domestic abusers—even those who have been convicted of just a misdemeanor—are already prohibited from possessing a firearm. That has been federal law for more than two decades. The studies also show that in the home of a domestic violence victim, such as a woman who has escaped from an abuser, the presence of a firearm is not associated with criminal homicide.
Under current Washington law, the application form for a handgun purchase includes the notification “that local laws and ordinances on firearms are pre-empted by state law and must be consistent with state law.” This accurately informs gun owners about their legal rights. The Bloomberg initiative would eliminate that notification requirement. Of course, preventing gun owners from knowing their legal rights is a key strategy of the Bloomberg organizations. Under ballot measure 1639, gun stores would also be ordered to disseminate false anti-gun propaganda to firearm buyers.
Because of the extremism of ballot measure 1639, Bloomberg’s team has even illegally concealed the contents of the initiative from petition signers. In violation of Washington state law, the paid petition-gatherers did not allow signers to see the full text of the initiative, including the provision that would remove current language in state law. Even the website for Bloomberg’s “Alliance for Gun Responsibility”—proponents of the measure—refuses to post the full text of the initiative. Instead, website visitors are merely offered an incomplete and deceptive summary of the initiative.
There is no doubt that Bloomberg and other malefactors of great wealth will spend massively to fool Washington voters about what’s really in the measure. And it is doubtful that most of the media will do a good job of fully informing the public.
Yet it’s possible to beat the 11th-richest man in the world if enough grassroots civil rights activists work hard to educate the public, including their friends and neighbors. In 2016, for example, the voters of Maine narrowly rejected a Bloomberg ballot measure.
Ultimately, the side with the most money does not always win elections. The entire financial resources of the NRA are a pittance compared to Bloomberg’s personal wealth of $50 billion, let alone the cumulative wealth of Bloomberg’s network among the ultra-rich. Yet the NRA uses its limited resources effectively. If the NRA has what it needs to get the job done, it’s possible that Bloomberg could be defeated in Washington.
If not, then expect copies of the Washington law to be introduced all over the country, just as Bloomberg’s previous victories in the far West have been used as models elsewhere.
Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute and a frequent contributor to America’s 1st Freedom magazine.