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Registry would treat gun owners like criminals

The Morning Call | April 11, 2007
Christian Berg

If someone told you he had been forced to provide the Pennsylvania State Police with their fingerprints, photograph, Social Security number and a host of other personal information, you'd probably assume they were arrested and charged with a crime.

Well, that kind of police ''booking'' process could be in store for Pennsylvania's roughly 3 million firearms owners if gun-control advocates in Harrisburg have their way.

Last month, a group of six state lawmakers introduced legislation that would require the annual registration of virtually every privately-owned firearm in the state. Those who would refuse to register their guns would become criminals, and those denied registration certificates for any reason would have their guns confiscated by the government.

''There's nothing more slanderous to our Second Amendment rights,'' said Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. ''It's scary, and it should be a wake-up call to sportsmen.''

The gun registration proposal, known as House Bill 760, is co-sponsored by Reps. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny; Angel Cruz, D-Philadelphia; Lawrence H. Curry, D-Montgomery and Philadelphia; Cherelle L. Parker, D-Philadelphia; Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny; and Rosita C. Youngblood, D-Philadelphia.

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In addition to providing the information mentioned above, gun owners would be required to undergo an annual criminal background check and provide police with the make, model, caliber and serial number for every gun they own -- along with a $10-per-year, per-gun registration fee.

Private gun owners whose applications are approved would receive registration certificates for each firearm. The certificates, which would include the gun owner's name, address, date of birth, photograph and other information, would have to be carried with the associated gun at all times and presented to police on demand.

It gets worse.

Gun owners also would be required to notify state police within 48 hours of any gun that is lost, stolen or destroyed. And gun owners could not sell or give a firearm to anyone else without notifying state police at least 48 hours in advance.

Finally -- and this one is really the icing on the cake -- gun owners would be required to keep all firearms unloaded and disassembled (or bound by a trigger lock or gun safe) unless the firearm is in the owner's immediate control and possession at the owner's residence or business or while being used for legal recreation.

So, the government would not only decide whether you deserve to own guns, but also how and where you could store and use them. Hard to believe that's what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they declared ''…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.''

Naturally, there is an exemption for law enforcement officers, corrections officers and for any guns owned or under direct control of the federal, state or local governments. Collectible firearms, along with flintlock, match-lock and percussion firearms manufactured before 1898 (including replicas) also would be excluded.

The rules I mentioned so far are only for those whose registration applications are approved. If your registration application is rejected for any reason, and your appeal is denied, you have three days to turn over all your guns to the state police.

So, if the government screws up and denies your application because of its mistake, you lose your guns. There's nothing in the bill addressing what happens to seized guns or when, if ever, you can get them back.

Needless to say, House Bill 760 hasn't exactly been embraced by rank-and-file gun owners or gun rights organizations such as the National Rifle Association, which issued a statement calling the proposal ''misguided.'' A gun-owning colleague here at the paper said the proposal reminded him a lot of the Big Brother government in George Orwell's ''1984.''

Before I go any further, it's important to point out that House Bill 760 doesn't appear to have anywhere near enough support to win approval in the General Assembly. Still, the mere fact that six House members are proposing it serves as evidence that gun control is an issue alive and well in the halls of state government.

It's also no surprise all six of the lawmakers pushing for gun registration represent either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Both those cities struggle with more than their fair share of violent crime -- many of them involving the illegal use of firearms.

While I sympathize with the crime victims, and the lawmakers' desire to address the problem, a statewide gun registry simply is not the answer.

You can bet your bottom dollar that criminals will not register their guns. In fact, the NRA noted the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that since felons are prohibited from owning firearms, compelling them to register them would violate their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Firearms registries also happen to be terribly expensive.

Canada's national gun registration program, in place for more than a decade, was initally projected to cost $119 million to set up. However, it ended up costing more than $1 billion and is widely considered a boondoggle by Canadian citizens. Some political leaders are pushing a plan to eliminate hunting rifles and shotguns -- which were added to the registry program five years ago -- to slash costs.

A recent spate of high-profile shootings in Canada also is causing renewed debate over the effectiveness of the program, with groups on both sides of the gun-control debate offering reports and statistics to support their point of view. Depending on which ''expert'' you ask, the Canadian registry has either been a colossal success or a colossal waste of time.

At best, Pennsylvania's proposed registration system is a duplication of government oversight already in place. For example, instant criminal background checks already are required every time a person buys a gun. And existing gun owners who lose their right to own firearms because of a felony or domestic violence conviction have their guns seized through the court system.

At worst, the registration proposal is an overbearing, unconstitutional invasion of privacy. You have to ask yourself, why does the government need a list of guns owned by honest, law-abiding citzens anyway?

I can think of several reasons, but none that make me feel more secure -- either in terms of my personal safety or my Second Amendment rights.

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