“Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013” Bill Commentary

[This is being provided both as an independent commentary and as further background to a later post to be published, the below though not being issues to be directly addressed therein.  This constitutes the body of an additional letter, this being disseminated during April, 2013, by the writer to Michigan’s two U.S. Senators.]

I provide this in my capacity as one of your constituents for consideration in your deliberation on the “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013” Bill.

While I may have overlooked some material improprieties in Title II or Title III of the bill, it would appear to me that, other than the reference in Sections 203 and 205 to “ammunition”, that these provisions are within the jurisdiction of Congress, do not offend any rights secured to the States or the people, and appear to be reasonable policy.  I however exclude from this sanction the above reference to “ammunition” since it is not mentioned in the preceding sections and therefore is beyond the scope thereof.

I do though have significant problems with Title I of the bill. In fact my difficulties with it are so many — a conclusion that surprised me as I thought many of the opponents of broader background checks were being too extreme — that I am uncertain that I can set forth these objections in as complete or organized a fashion as I would prefer.  Initially I would note that the prohibition set forth in Section 122(a), especially when taken in conjunction with the definition of transfer set forth on pages 13 and 14 of the bill, is far too broad.  In addition to it being so intrusive, as affecting almost every conceivable action constituting a “transfer”, and therefore being in violation of Amendment X of the Constitution, its prohibition on transfer, except by means of the conduit through a federally-licensed person, is a deprivation of a property right that renders it in conflict with Amendment V of the Constitution.

The very narrow and minimal exceptions set forth on pages 11 through 13 of the bill prove the excessive inclusiveness of this prohibition.  Reviewing and reflecting upon them it is an easy matter to conceive of a whole panoply of normal and innocent activities involving a firearm that would be criminalized by such a prohibition.  For example, a person who visited another friend (in a rural area where there was no ordinance prohibition on firearm discharge) and who, while engaged in target practice on his friend’s property, handed his firearm to the friend standing next to him, so as to allow him to practice with it, would apparently be guilty of a felony.  Can it be imagined that it was anticipated that the federal government was permitted to regulate such an extensive range of otherwise permissible and innocent private activities?

The obnoxiousness of the proposed regime, it seems to me, is further proved by Section 123 of the bill. Now a person who has his firearm stolen and fails to at all realize he has to report the theft to the U.S. Attorney General, or is too busy for, say, a day-and-a-half to so report it to the federal government, is also guilt of a felony?  Is it really conceived the U.S. Congress has the constitutional authority to prescribe such conduct ordinarily within local purview only?

I could focus on other provisions and set forth the basis for why these are defects, but I trust the foregoing adequately indicates the core deficiency of Title I as currently drafted.

I understand that Senators Manchin and Toomey are engaged in endeavoring to fashion a compromise substitute for Title I.  I believe the effort is directed at regulating only arms-length transactions, such as gun show sales and online transactions and to not include temporary transfers or those between people who the owner knows or with whom he has the opportunity to familiarize himself. This seems consistent with the catalytic purpose of the bill, viz, preventing firearms from coming into the possession of prohibited persons; for under the latter circumstances the owner knows or would have the opportunity to know whether the recipient appears to be a prohibited person. And if the owner nevertheless delivers it to a prohibited person can be penalized under existing law or perhaps Title II (or a variation of Title II).

Thus I would urge support for such a substitute for Title I.  Failing an adequate substitute, then I would urge a Nay vote on the current version of Title I.

WAYNE A. SMITH

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